Leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects immature blood cells in the body. It is a very serious and potentially life-threatening form of cancer, and therefore early diagnosis is essential for successful treatment. Though there are no currently approved home-diagnosis methods for leukaemia, there are steps individuals can take to recognize signs and symptoms and seek appropriate medical treatment.
The first symptom
The first symptom that may alert individuals to seek medical attention for suspicion of leukaemia is often an enlarged spleen or swollen lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes, particularly on the sides of the neck and armpits, can be a sign of the onset of leukaemia. It is also important to note other changes in the body such as persistent fatigue, frequent fevers and night sweats, bleeding or bruising easily, and petechiae – small red or purple spots that appear on the skin from broken capillaries.
Discuss with a physician
When these concerns arise, the next step is to discuss them with a physician. The doctor may opt for a physical examination and lab tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) to measure levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, haemoglobin and hematocrit. A CBC can also help detect blood cell abnormalities, further indicating the presence of cancer.
Additional screenings can help confirm a leukaemia diagnosis if it is considered likely. Bone marrow aspirates and biopsies can be taken to analyze the structure and the cells in the marrow, helping to identify if cancerous cells are present. A CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis can also be used to determine if there is an enlarged spleen or enlarged lymph nodes.