Leukemia is a type of cancer of white blood cells (WBCs) and WBC precursors. Leukemias are classified as either acute or chronic, depending on how quickly they progress.
Some integrative interventions may complement conventional leukemia therapies, such as curcumin, vitamin D, and green tea.
Causes and Risk Factors
- Men and older people are more likely to develop leukemia (except acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is more prevalent in children)
- Genetics: siblings of family members with cancer of the blood cells have 2.3 times the risk of developing leukemia
- High-energy radiation exposure and previous cancer treatment
- Viral infections, including human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1)
Signs and Symptoms
Some forms of leukemia, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia, are diagnosed during routine exams and are initially without symptoms. When there are symptoms, they can often resemble those caused by other, less severe illnesses:
- Weight loss
- Weakness, fatigue
- Infection, fever, swollen lymph nodes
- Bruises, skin pallor, and bleeding
- A complete blood count (CBC) test can reveal elevated WBC count and additional blood cell abnormalities
- Bone marrow biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and learn more about the specific leukemia cell type
- Abnormal WBCs are tested for the presence of specific genetic mutations that can inform about type of leukemia and possible prognosis
The specific treatment approach depends upon the type of leukemia and how aggressive the disease is.
- First-line treatment is usually chosen based on the results of clinical trials in patients with the same type and stage of cancer. The complete list of chemotherapeutic drugs FDA-approved to treat leukemia are available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/druginfo/leukemia.
- Acute leukemia patients usually need to start chemotherapy immediately after diagnosis.
- Tyrosine kinase inhibitors, bone marrow transplant, monoclonal antibody-based therapy, and interferon therapy are additional types of treatments for specific leukemias.
Novel and Emerging Strategies
- A patients’ own T-cells modified to target and kill leukemia cells, a drug omacetaxine mepesuccinate derived from the evergreen tree Cephalotoxus harringtonia, and aurora kinase inhibitors are some of the strategies currently being developed against leukemia.
Dietary and Lifestyle Considerations
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid smoking
- Consume a diet high in dark green vegetables, seafood, nuts, seeds, and fruit; and lower in red meat and sugar
- Green tea and epigallocatechin gallate: In two studies involving adults with leukemia, green tea consumption was associated with a 50% decreased risk of leukemia. The risk was reduced as the number of cups of tea consumed per day and number of years of tea consumption increased.
- Curcumin: Curcumin has been shown to inhibit metastasis, invasion, and angiogenesis in animal models and to induce cell death in leukemia cell lines.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and fish oil, has been associated with better weight maintenance and response to therapy, fewer complications, and improved survival in cancer patients. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), another marine omega-3 fatty acid, was able to kill acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells without harming normal blood-forming stem cells in a cell culture experiment.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps promote healthy cellular differentiation, and several lines of data highlight vitamin D’s potential as a preventive and therapeutic agent in a variety of cancers, including leukemia.
- Melatonin: Melatonin has demonstrated anti-aging, immunomodulatory, and anticancer properties. Several epidemiologic studies suggest high levels of melatonin may help prevent cancer, possibly by activating the tumor-suppressor molecule p53.