Leukemia

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. Usually it starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow is where blood cells are made.

Leukemia: What You Need to Know

Teamwork
Fletcher Allen offers knowledgeable and respectful staff that take a comprehensive approach to care — delivering clinical excellence and specialized treatment that is centered around you and your family’s needs. Our team includes:

  • Board-certified Medical Oncologists and Hematologists
  • Physician's assistant
  • Patient navigator
  • Dietician
  • Social worker
  • Clinical fellows
  • Registered nurses
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Pharmacists
  • Psychologists
  • Clinical research coordinators
  • Support staff

Personalized Care
Every patient is unique. You and your family will feel the advantages of personalized, patient-centered care. We optimize your treatment to your specific leukemia diagnosis.

Experienced, Trusted Expertise
Fletcher Allen’s staff physicians are board-certified medical oncologists and hematologists and have additional specialty training in adult and pediatric oncology. Our doctors are University of Vermont College of Medicine faculty members and are involved in research, and in the education of the College of Medicine students. The attending physicians and fellows also staff a 20-bed inpatient service and consult service.

What is Leukemia?

Usually, leukemia starts in the white blood cells.  Your white blood cells help your body fight infection. They normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them.  But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells (called leukemia cells) that don't do the work of normal white blood cells. Leukemia cells grow faster than normal cells, and they don't stop growing when they should.

Many types of leukemia exist, but the four main types of leukemia include:

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of leukemia in young children, but also can happen in adults.

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a common type of leukemia.  It occurs in children and adults, but is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common chronic adult leukemia.  Sometimes CLL patients feel well for years without needing treatment.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) mainly affects adults. A CML patient may have few or no symptoms for months or years before entering a time period in which the leukemia cells grow quickly.

There are less common types of leukemia, such as hairy cell leukemia. Additionally, there are subtypes of leukemia, such as acute promyelocytic leukemia (a subtype of AML).

Leukemia symptoms vary with the type of leukemia. Common leukemia symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • An enlarged liver or spleen
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Very small red spots in your skin (called petechiae)
  • Night sweats
  • Bone or joint pain

Researchers don't know the exact causes of leukemia yet.  It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  Several factors may increase your risk of developing some types of leukemia, including: 

  • Smoking or using other tobacco products: Fletcher Allen offers a quit smoking program
  • Previous cancer treatments: Chemotherapy and radiation
  • Genetic disorders: Certain genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome
  • Radiation exposure: Previous exposure to large doses of radiation, such as surviving a nuclear reactor accident, increases the risk of future leukemia
  • Chemical exposure: Previous exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene, found in gasoline and used in the chemical industry, or formaldehyde
  • Other blood diseases: Sometimes myelodysplastic syndrome is called preleukemia
  • Family history: In some cases, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) runs in families

Diagnosis and Treatment: Leukemia

Fletcher Allen’s physicians are highly trained in performing procedures to diagnose and treat leukemia such as stem cell transplant and chemotherapy.

Learn more about leukemia diagnosis and treatment. 

Find a Fletcher Allen physician or call 877-540-HOPE (4673).