Overview of Leukemia
Leukemia is the term used for the cancer of the blood-forming tissues of the body. This includes the lymphatic system as well as the bone marrow.
Leukemia escalates the number of white blood cells in your blood. But as they are abnormal cells , they crowd out the normal cells and do not perform normally either.
White blood cells are the fighters in human bodies. They are formed in the bone marrow and help us to fight against infection. In the case of leukemia, there is an uncontrolled production of immature and abnormal white blood cells from the bone marrow. This causes an increase in their count in the blood, with poor function.
These immaturely formed cells are known as blast cells. The lack of normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the blood causes various symptoms like bleeding and bruising, fever, fatigue, and an increased risk of infections. The diagnosis is made by blood tests and bone marrow biopsy.
Types of Leukemia
Leukemia can be classified based on the duration of onset and the type of cells that are involved. The four major types of combinations that can occur in leukemia are:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
Symptoms that may be caused by Leukemia
The different forms of leukemia cause different symptoms, and some do not cause any initial symptoms. The following symptoms may occur :
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
In children, the following symptoms are commonly seen:
- Unexplainable fever
- Easy bruising of the skin that may appear as purple rashes or spots
- Paleness of the skin
- Enlargement of the liver or the spleen
When to See a Doctor?
You should see your doctor if you have recently lost a significant amount of weight or have suffered severe and unexplainable fever.
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What Causes Leukemia?
The cause of leukemia is not really known. As per the current research, the disease may be caused by a combination of genetic as well as environmental factors.
Therefore, we cannot prevent leukemia. We can, however, try and decrease the risk of developing it by making sure that the risk factors are reduced.
Risk Factors of Leukemia
- Smoking rises the risk of developing acute myelogenous leukemia
- Chemical Exposure. If you have been exposed to a lot of radiation or certain chemicals such as benzene, which is found in the gasoline used in industries, you may be at a higher risk.
- History of Radiation Therapy or Chemotherapy increases the risk of developing a certain type of leukemia.
- Genetic Factor. Genetics play a major role in cancer, and so, in leukemia too. If you have a family history of leukemia, you should be vigilant . Some genetic disorders like Down syndrome, are linked to an increased risk of leukemia.
However, it is vital to note that some people may develop leukemia without any of these risk factors and some may not develop it even after prolonged exposure. In the end, the unpredictable and uncertain nature of the disease warns us to be more careful.
The treatment of leukemia is completely dependent on the type of leukemia you have been diagnosed with and your medical history. Your oncologist will guide you to take all the essential treatment steps.
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is an important part of cancer treatment after and throughout the treatment course.
This can be given in the form of oral pills or IV injections. Your doctor will decide on which drug to administer and the dosage and combinations , depending on your diagnosis.
Chemotherapy drugs are given with very precise calculations of milligrams of the drug per bodyweight of the individual. Certain drugs are also given based on the body surface area. Your doctor will make the exact calculations to administer the chemotherapy drug and will also decide on the route of administration that best suits you.
Chemotherapy may cause side effects , therefore, constant monitoring of the body’s reaction to the drug is very essential. It is very specific to each individual, and the side effects of the drugs also change from person to person .
- Biological Therapy. It works by helping your body differentiate and attack the leukemia cells. So, your immune system is trained to target the leukemia cells and kill them.
- Targeted Therapy. This is one of the advanced technologies that target the weakness inside of the cells and kills them. It will interrupt the metabolism of the leukemia cells, and therefore, they will die.
- Radiation Therapy. This is a therapy that uses X-ray beams or similar high-frequency beams for radiation. During radiation therapy, you are made to lie on a table while a big machine moves around you, directing the radiation to accurate points on the body.
- Bone Marrow Transplant. Also called stem cell transplant, this is a procedure done for the treatment of leukemia. In this procedure, your doctor works with a team of doctors and replaces your bone marrow with the donor bone marrow.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What is Acute Leukemia?
In Acute leukemia abnormal blood cells are the immature blood cells (blasts). These cells cannot carry out their normal functions. They also multiply rapidly, therefore the disease quickly worsens. Acute leukemia requires aggressive, timely treatment.
Q. What Can Your Doctor Ask You?
Your doctor is most likely to ask you about the time and period of onset of your initial symptoms, severity of your symptoms, worsening and relieving factors of your symptoms, and the frequency of your symptoms.
Q. What Blood Tests Are You Likely to Undergo for Leukemia?
By looking at a sample of the blood, your treating doctor can determine if you have abnormal or irregular levels of white or red blood cells or platelets — which may suggest leukemia.
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