Leukemia is referred to a group of cancers which often occur in the bone marrow. It often results in producing a number of white blood cells which are abnormal. There are several types of this disease, some of which are more common and prevalent among the children and people of younger ages while other several forms of this disease are more prevalent among adults.
In simpler words, Leukemia can be described as the cancer of blood cells . The cancer begins in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is defined as the soft tissue inside the bones. This is the part where blood cells are produced. White blood cells assist you in the body to fight infections. When a person has leukemia, their bone marrow begins to produce too many white blood cells which are known as leukemia cells. These leukemia cells do not function normally as white blood cells do. These cells grow at a faster rate than normal cells and they don’t stop to grow further even when they should.
Leukemia cells eventually crowd out the normal blood cells in the sufferer’s body. This ends up causing further serious problems to the patient. These problems include anemia, bleeding and infections. Apart from this, leukemia cells may even spread out to lymph nodes and other organs of the human body which as result experience pain or swelling.
Types of Leukemia
The different types of leukemia are grouped according to the kind of white blood cell it affects and how quickly it gets worsened. Leukemia is named according to how quickly this disease develops and get worse .
This type of leukemia progresses quickly. Leukemia cells grow very rapidly. Since these are not normal white blood cells, they don’t function as normal white blood cells. Sufferers of leukemia may experience excessive fatigue, get infected often and get bruised easily as well. If a bone marrow is test is done on these patients, it may display a very high level of leukemia cells while the level of normal blood cells may be very low.
This type of Leukemia, contrasted to acute leukemia develops slowly. These cells work pretty much as well as the normal white blood cells do. This is harder to diagnose as sufferer would not feel sick initially. The first symptom and show of illness in this type of leukemia may just be shown through abnormal results on a blood test done on a routine basis.
Myeloid and Lymphoid Leukemia are named for Leukemia types of white blood cells.
This is the type of leukemia which starts in myeloid cells.
The kind of leukemia which begins in the lymphoid cells is known as the lymphoid leukemia. These leukemia cells collect in the lymph nodes which as a result become swollen.
The four most common kinds of Leukemia are:
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia: This kind of leukemia affects the myeloid cells and it the cells grow at a very rapid rate. These leukemia blast cells are collected in the bone marrow and blood.
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: This affects the lymphoid cells of the sufferer’s body. The Leukemic blast cells are collected bone marrow and blood. The leukemia cells grow at a very high and rapid rate.
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: In this, leukemia cells grow at a slow rate initially and affect myeloid cells of the sufferer’s body. When blood tests are carried, they show a high level of white blood cells. The number of leukemic blast cells in the bone marrow may be smaller and the abnormal blood cells also work correctly.
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: This kind of leukemia ends up in affecting the lymphoid cells of the body. Since it’s the chronic type, the rate at which these cells grow is very slow. If the blood test of the patient is carried out, it will show an increase in the number of white blood cells. Abnormal cells of the patient in this condition work as well as the normal white blood cells do.
Depending on the types of leukemia, the symptoms of leukemia may vary . The most commonly occurring signs and symptoms of the disease include the following:
- Experiencing sudden fever and chills
- The sufferer might experience constant and persistent fatigue and weakness.
- Severe and frequent infections
- Sudden loss of weight without any explainable reason
- Lymph nodes may get swollen
- The liver of the patient may get enlarged or become spleen
- The patient may get frequent and easy bruises
- The sufferer may bleed without any particular reason
- Recurrent and sudden nosebleeds.
- There may appear small red spots in the skin
- Sudden sweating during the night
- Pain or tenderness in the bones
- There may be lumps or swollen glands on the sufferer’s neck, groin or under the arm
- Sudden and unexplained loss of appetite. The sufferer might not feel the need of eating even their regular meals.
- Sudden weight loss might occur without any particular reason
- Side of the belly may swell
- The neurological symptoms include, migraine, seizures, coma due to pressure of the brain stem
- A imbalance which may prove harmful in the blood count
Causes of Leukemia
The exact causes of leukemia are still not exactly known . There are certain abnormalities in the chromosomes which could be associated with leukemia:
- Leukemia can be an unfortunate outcome from chemotherapy and radiation therapies which are used to treat other type of cancers. The type of chemotherapy drugs affects the risk of leukemia.
- Leukemia is also an unfortunate consequence of family histories. If any members of the family have been already diagnosed with leukemia, chances for the disease may increase.
- Ionizing radiations that could be caused because of nuclear explosion exposure, uranium, uranium dust exposure and radon are also possible associations with leukemia.
- Smoking cigarettes also increase the risk of leukemia.
- Genetic disorders such as down syndromes are associated with an even greater increase in the risk of leukemia.
Tests and Diagnosis of Leukemia
If doctors find chronic type of leukemia in somebody’s blood test before the symptoms have started to show, following diagnostic tests may be undergone through :
- Physical Exam: the doctor will look for signs leukemia that could appear physically. These signs could include pale skin due to anemia and swelling of the lymph nodes. Another sign could include the enlargement of liver and spleen of the sufferer.
- Blood tests: the doctor could take your blood samples and carry out blood tests. This would enable the doctor to determine if the patient has abnormal levels of platelets or white blood cells. This condition may suggest leukemia in the patient.
- Bone marrow test: a bone marrow test maybe conducted in which the doctor might recommend a procedure to the patient involving removal of bone marrow from their hip bone. That sample is then sent to the laboratories where it is tested out for leukemia cells. Treatment options could be determined through the characteristics revealed in the leukemia tests.
Besides these, additional tests may be done to confirm diagnosis and determine the extent and type of leukemia in the body of the patient.
After the disease has been unfortunately diagnosed in a patient, there are certain treatments that could be done to treat it. Treatments for leukemia may depend on various factors. These treatments are done based on the patient’s age and their overall health. It also depends on the kind of leukemia that the patient has. Another factor that determines the treatment for leukemia depends on whether it spreads to the other parts of the patient’s body. Some of those most common treatments for leukemia include:
- Chemotherapy which a major treatment for cancer and leukemia. In this therapy, chemicals are used for killing the leukemia cells. The therapy may cause the patient to receive a single type of drug or a combination of different types of drugs. The drugs may come for the patient either in form of a pill or could even be injected directly into the patient’s veins.
- The other type of treatment therapy option for a patient of leukemia is biological therapy. This therapy works in a way in which treatments are done with making the patient’s immune system recognize leukemia cells. Once the system recognizes those cells, it could attack them and kill them. As mentioned above, the immune system of a patient suffering from leukemia fails to recognize the abnormal white blood cells which are causing the disease. It therefore is ineffective in killing them unless the immune system is revived through a biological therapy.
- Targeted therapy is the other kind of therapy which uses drugs in order to attack specifically certain vulnerabilities in the cancer cell residing in the patient’s body.
- Radiation therapy. This therapy damages the leukemia cells and stops them from growing further by using X-rays or other kinds of high energy beams. In this therapy, the patient is told to lie down flat on a table while a big machine is moved around him. The machine directs the radiation to specific points of the patient’s body. This therapy may be used to prepare the patient for a stem cell transplant.
- Stem cell transplant is basically a process in which the infected bone marrow which is causing the disease to the patient is removed. It is then replaced with a healthy bone marrow. Before a stem transplant is done, the patient receives very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The therapies destroy the infected bone marrow of the patient’s body. To rebuild the bone marrow, the patient is given an infusion of stem cells which form blood. The stem cells could either be taken from a donor. The patient can themselves too use their own stem cells for the process in some rare cases.
- Another option for the patients of leukemia in order to treat their disease is watchful waiting. As the name suggests, under this treatment the patient literally watches and waits for the further progress of the disease. This is suitable for patients who have chronic leukemia but without the occurrence of any symptoms. The patient might not need a treatment right away under this condition. The doctors see and monitor the disease. When it worsens, then treatments can be used to control the disease and its symptoms. After the treatments control leukemia, patients may be given maintenance therapies which then help to keep the dreadful leukemia from coming back to the patient.
Patients suffering from leukemia will have to go through the painful treatments in order to be cured. The treatment that would be suitable for their particular condition will depend on their general health and the type of leukemia that they have. Patient’s age is also considered in deciding for a suitable treatment to cure their leukemia. Some of the treatments might not be suitable for younger children while some may not be right for people of older ages. Depending on all of this, the patient is recommended the type of treatment they should undergo tp treat their disease. In some cases, some patients are required to receive more than one type of treatment to cure leukemia.
Being diagnosed with the dreaded disease of Leukemia can be devastating for both the patient and their families. At this time of new found distress, the family needs to be strong and supportive towards the patients in order to keep them from giving up. The patient should learn about the disease and try to keep care of themselves. Fear and depression in such a situation is natural for the patient for which he should find someone to talk to. This would release the patient of much of his stress. The support of family and friends will help him deal with the disease as emotional support is extremely important for a patient overwhelmed with such a disease.