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There are more than 232,000 people in the U.S. living with leukemia and approximately 44,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year.  For most cancers there are distinct stages in the progression of the disease.  The stages for most cancers are based on the size of the tumors and how far those tumors are from the original site of your cancer.  Leukemia is different.  Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow.  Leukemia, by its very nature, is spread throughout your body almost instantly in the marrow of your bones.  Most forms of leukemia spread to other organs of the body at an alarming rate, making staging impractical.  One of the primary forms of leukemia, Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), is divided into three phases, rather than stages.  The first phase is known as the Chronic Phase.  This phase is made up of patients with fewer than 5 percent blasts (cancerous cells) in their blood and bone marrow samples.  Patients in the Chronic Phase have very mild symptoms of the disease and respond well to standard leukemia treatments.  The second phase is known as the Accelerated Phase.  In this phase patients have more than 5 percent but less than 30 percent blasts in their blood and bone marrow samples.  Most patients in the Accelerated Phase suffer from loss of appetite and weight loss and do not responds as well to traditional treatments.  The third and final phase is known as Acute Blast Phase.  In this phase patients have more than 30 percent blast cells and their cancer has spread from the bone marrow to other organs.  Patients in the Acute Blast Phase must now deal with an extremely aggressive form of the disease.  Other forms of leukemia have slight differences in their staging, but most follow the same basic pattern as CML.

Leukemia Phases and Outlook for Survival

Because of the nature of leukemia, normal cancer “stages” don’t really apply, as previously discussed.  So in addition to phases, many forms of leukemia are also characterized by a patient’s outlook for survival.  Things such as an acceleration in the formation of blasts, increase in the size of the spleen, a very high or very low blood platelet count, being over 60 years of age, and certain chromosomal changes are all looked at as negative factors for a patient’s survival.   

What Are the Symptoms of Leukemia?

Having some of the symptoms enumerated above does not necessarily mean that you have leukemia.  Only a doctor can tell you that.  However, if you have more than one of the following symptoms, it might be wise to ask your health care professional to run some tests.  Are you always fatigued? Do you feel constantly weak?  Do you get frequent fevers or chills for no apparent reason?  Have you lost your appetite?  Are you losing weight?  Does it seem that several of your lymph nodes are enlarged?  Do you have any tiny red patches on your skin?  Do you bruise easily?  Do you bleed easily?  Do you have night sweats?  Do your bones feel tender or painful?

Survival Rates for Leukemia

If you suffer from any of the above symptoms you should immediately consult with your doctor.  If your doctor confirms the worst, what are your chances of surviving for 5 years?  Your chances are a lot better today than they were 40 years ago.  In the 1960s the 5-year survival rate for all forms of leukemia was about 14 percent.  Today that survival rate has risen to just over 50 percent.  For some forms of leukemia, such as CLL, the survival rate after 5 years is 76 percent.  For children under 5 the survival rate for most forms of leukemia is 90 percent, with new advances being made all the time.

TSC Sources & Recommended Resources: For more information on leukemia check out the Leukemia Guide from The Survivors Club.
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