Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
No known way exists to prevent leukemia. Avoiding risk factors such as smoking, exposure to toxic chemicals, and exposure to radiation may help prevent some cases of leukemia.
The leukemias vary in their response to treatment.
Some types of acute leukemia respond very well to treatment and can be cured. Others do not have such a positive outlook.
Chronic leukemias usually cannot be cured, but they can be controlled for long periods. Some people with chronic leukemias respond well at first, but, over time, their remissions last for shorter and shorter intervals.
Specific factors are associated with outcomes in each type of leukemia. General factors associated with outcomes include the following:
Percentages of leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow
Degree to which specific systems of the body are affected by leukemia
Chromosome abnormalities in leukemia cells
Like other cancers, leukemia outlook is measured in terms of survival rates. The number of people who are still alive 5 years after treatment varies by type of leukemia. After 5 years, greater than 80% of patients without detectable disease will likely maintain a lifelong remission. Patients in remission longer than 15 years are considered unequivocal cures.
One problem that requires concerted efforts by advocate groups is the need to address the reluctance on the part of the health care industry to offer health insurance for former pediatric leukemia patients whose disease-free survivals are considered "cures" by all available evidence.
Support Groups and Counseling
Living with leukemia presents many new challenges for the patient and for their family and friends.
The patient will probably have many worries about how the leukemia will affect them and their ability to live a normal life, that is, to care for their family and home, to hold their job, and to continue the friendships and activities they enjoy.
Many people feel anxious and depressed. Some people feel angry and resentful; others feel helpless and defeated.
For most people with leukemia, talking about their feelings and concerns can be therapeutic.
Friends and family members can be very supportive. They may be hesitant to offer support until they see how the patient is coping. The patient should not wait for them to bring it up. If the patient wants to talk about their concerns, let them know.
Some people don't want to "burden" their loved ones, or they prefer talking about their concerns with a more neutral professional. A social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful if the patient wants to discuss their feelings and concerns about having leukemia. The hematologist or oncologist should be able to recommend someone.
Many people with leukemia are profoundly helped by talking to other people who have leukemia. Sharing concerns with others who have been through the same thing can be remarkably reassuring. Support groups of patients and families with leukemia may be available through the medical center where the patient is receiving treatment. The American Cancer Society also has information about support groups all over the United States.
For more information about support groups, contact the following agencies:
American Cancer Society: 800-ACS-2345
National Cancer Institute, Cancer Information Service: 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237); TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers): 800-332-8615
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: 800-955-4572
Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Medical Oncology
"Leukemia." National Cancer Institute.
Previous contributing editors: Editors: Clarence Sarkodee-Adoo, MD, Consulting Staff, Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation, City of Hope Samaritan BMT Program; Mary L Windle, Pharm D, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Pharmacy Editor, eMedicine.com, Inc; Samuel Gross, MD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Pediatrics, University of Florida; Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of North Carolina; Adjunct Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Duke University.