Though leukemia is sometimes thought of as a disease that younger people are more likely to get, it’s actually a condition that occurs more often in senior populations living in Manchester and elsewhere. It is also something that doesn’t necessarily have to automatically lead to someone needing end-of-life care.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice has worked with many patients with leukemia, which is also commonly called blood cancer.
Though it is one of the more common cancers for young people, more research is showing that seniors are likely to be diagnosed with some of the versions.
According to Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS, who writes for the Cleveland Clinic, leukemia is actually more frequently diagnosed in people between the ages of 65 and 74, with a mean age of 66.
Dr. Sekeres even jokes that this particular health condition “needs a better press agent” since it’s commonly believed that the blood disorder is more of a childhood disease when the opposite is true.
There are actually four main types, and some are especially common for seniors, including acute myeloid leukemia, which has an average age of diagnosis of 68 and is rare for anyone under 45 to be diagnosed; chronic lymphocytic leukemia which is often seen around age 70 and rare under 40; and chronic myeloid leukemia, which sees average ages around 64 or 65.
Why these ages in particular are more likely to have this condition is still under discussion, but one theory is that this particular cancer may have started much earlier but takes several years to be at a point where symptoms can be noticed and cells have grown large enough to be detected. It also may be based on certain cellular mutations that grow slowly through someone’s life and start to be noticed and turn into cancer cells in the 60s or 70s.
Detecting and treating blood cancer
Diagnosing blood cancer initially can start with a complete blood count blood test that can show an imbalance of white blood cells. This is different than some types of cancers that may show a lower than usual number of these cells, but in certain types of blood cancer, you may see a higher count of white blood cells that are behaving unusually.
In some cases, Healthline reports that a provider may notice unusual blood cell count first, such as in a routine physical and blood test. Then they may start asking the patient for more info about their overall health, including if they have some of the common symptoms associated with leukemia.
On their own, the symptoms could be caused by a variety of other conditions, but if a provider is looking seriously at a leukemia diagnosis, he or she may ask about several other physical and mental changes that could also be indicators. These could include shortness of breath, weakness, loss of appetite, night sweats, chronic infection, joint pain, general weakness, and weight loss. People with certain forms of leukemia may not experience all of these but may fit enough to be considered genuine factors.
A provider may perform further testing, including looking at lymph nodes, taking X-rays, and a spinal tap. Not only can these confirm what’s happening but what type and what stage.
There is also a misconception that this type of cancer is always fatal. Researchers say that, as with many cancers, the earlier it is detected and treatment begins, the better one’s odds are.
A common treatment method is chemotherapy although some patients receive stem cell transplants, either from donors or their own.
In some cases, however, a provider may say “wait and see” how it progresses before recommending treatment. This is sometimes because chemo can be rough on some people, especially older patients with already weak immune systems or those who are dealing with other health challenges.
There are also some types of medications available that can slow the growth of cancer cells in the blood. Immunotherapies can give a boost to your immune system in their fight against the cells and kinase inhibitors can reduce their overall growth.
Healthline said the overall outlook for people dealing with leukemia can vary depending on age, type of leukemia, other health issues, and what stage the condition is in.
For those over age 70, acute forms may have a 4-month to 1-year survival rate without any treatments. Chronic forms with treatment may have much higher survival rates, sometimes as high as 90 percent for ages 60-69 for certain types.
Although there are some misconceptions about leukemia, there are still several resources available to help people who have been diagnosed or their loved ones.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society offers information for patients and caregivers, as well as those in the health care profession. The society also is happy to answer questions and provide support, even through online chatting.
The society also promotes Blood Cancer Awareness, which takes place in September. This is an opportunity to increase overall awareness of efforts to battle leukemia and other related conditions.