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Leukemia in the Elderly

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Leukemia is a common cancer found in senior’s blood cells that initially involves the production of irregular white blood cells called leukemia cells in the bone marrow.  As time progresses, these leukemia cells overpopulate the bone marrow’s other healthy blood cells inhibiting the blood from performing vital tasks such as fighting infections and carrying oxygen.  Leukemia is typically caused by genetic mutations in a senior’s DNA.  Although certain mutations can be passed down from parents to their children, most mutations are not hereditary and will occur later on in the senior’s life.  Seniors who have previously undergone chemotherapy to treat previous cancers or who have previously smoked during their lifetime will also be at a higher risk for leukemia since both involve chemicals which can lead to this cancer.  There are two main types of leukemia:

Chronic Leukemia:  a condition that progressively worsens over a lengthy period of time

Acute Leukemia:  a condition that immediately worsens

The two types of leukemia above can be further classified into the following:

Myeloid Leukemia:  a blood cancer that affects plasma cells which fight infections

Lymphocytic Leukemia:  a blood cancer that inhibits blood cells from carrying oxygen or destroying bacteria

type_acute_myeloid_leukemia

Symptoms

An elderly with leukemia may have symptoms similar to those for a flu or a cold.  To differentiate between leukemia and a flu or a cold, a senior individual with leukemia may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

–          pain in bones and joints

–          bone tenderness

–          excessive perspiration at night

–          shortage of breath

–          swollen lymph nodes near the senior’s neck and armpit region

–          a decrease in appetite

–          sudden weight loss

–          abdominal pain

–          frequently tired or weak

–          high tendency of infections and bruising

–          gums or deep skin bleeding

If a senior has chronic leukemia, the symptoms above will be unnoticeable at first but will worsen as time passes.  Some seniors with chronic leukemia may not even notice any of the symptoms for years.  Otherwise, seniors with acute leukemia will feel uncomfortable enough to require medical attention from clinics and even hospitals.  If a senior constantly appears to be sick, it is suggested that they check with the doctor to see if leukemia is the cause.

Treatment

Treatments for both acute and chronic leukemia vary with some seniors undergoing a combination of these treatments to improve their conditions.  Some of the more popular treatments include:

–          chemotherapy

–          biological therapy

–          stem cell transplantation

Acute leukemia should be immediately treated while chronic leukemia should be detected as early as possible and treated.  The type or combination of treatment to be used will vary based on the type of leukemia the senior has been diagnosed with, as well as the senior’s body and health.  In addition, a good diet, regular exercise and frequent communications with their loved ones are essential steps that seniors diagnosed with leukemia should take to improve their conditions.  Please consult your doctor for more information about leukemia and ways to deal with this condition.


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