Leukemia is a type of cancer arising from white blood cells (WBCs) and resulting from malignant transformation of different types of white blood cell precursors: lymphocytic leukemia is an overproduction of lymphocytes, and myeloid leukemia is an overproduction of myelocytes (Goldman 2012b; Wu 2014; Janeway 2001). Leukemic cells grow and divide uncontrollably, displacing healthy blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infection (Ntziachristos 2013; Goldman 2012a; LLS 2012b).
Leukemia is the sixth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the majority of cases occur in older adults. Leukemia is more common in men than women (Siegel 2013; NCI 2014a), and more than 52 000 new cases of leukemia are estimated to occur each year in the United States, with over 24 000 deaths attributed to leukemia annually (NCI 2014a; Siegel 2014).
Leukemias are also classified as either acute or chronic, depending on how quickly they progress (Wu 2014; Goldman 2012b; Goldman 2012a).
Acute leukemias, if left untreated, progress very rapidly, and without proper care the mortality rate is extremely high within several months of diagnosis. However, appropriate treatment can considerably improve prognosis and survival times for acute leukemia patients, and many can be cured (Goldman 2012a).
Chronic leukemias, on the other hand, may not cause any significant problems before diagnosis, though sometimes they cause nonspecific symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, or abdominal pain. In many cases, abnormal blood cell counts found during routine blood work in people without symptoms may prompt a physician to suspect leukemia, which can be confirmed with further testing (Goldman 2012b).
Researchers are making great headway in the battle against leukemia. Innovative strategies including antibody-based therapies, interventions directed at leukemia stem cells, and novel targeted agents have shown promise in preliminary research and early clinical trials (Advani 2012; Thomas 2012; Hoelzer 2010; Zhao 2013; Lancet 2010).
Moreover, evidence suggests that some integrative interventions may complement conventional leukemia therapies. Several medicinal plants are excellent sources of chemopreventive phytochemicals that have been shown to be active against various leukemia cell lines, and some may modulate molecular targets known to be involved in leukemia development and progression (Fresco 2010; Huang 2010). For example, curcumin, green tea, and vitamin C have been demonstrated to kill leukemia cells in experimental models (Cragg 2006; Ghosh 2009; Angelo 2009; Han 2009; Yang 2012; Omoregie 2013; Kawada 2013).
In this protocol you will learn about the biology of leukemia and how this disease is typically diagnosed and treated; the causes of leukemia and risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease will also be outlined. You will read about a number of natural compounds that may target specific mechanisms underlying some forms of leukemia, and research on a number of novel and emerging leukemia treatments will be summarized. Nutrition and lifestyle considerations that may mitigate some of the manifestations of leukemia will also be reviewed.