Leukemia is often known as cancer of white blood cells, bone, or bone marrow. Bone marrow produces white blood cells. Leukemia is basically developed from a problem in leukocytes or white blood cells and its production as we know that WBC’s are an important part of our immune system. They protect us from foreign bodies, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and fight them and normalize our body. WBC’s are mainly formed in the bone marrow. But sometimes leukemia develops in other cell types.
Cancer is known as an abnormal growth of cells that gets out of control.
It is most common in the age group under 15 years and after 55.
There are 2 types of leukemia:
- Acute leukemia
- Chronic leukemia.
Acute leukemia is treatable and can be cured but gets worse rapidly.
Chronic leukemia is unlikely to be treated and gets worse with time. If it gets transplanted, then it can be treated. There are several types of leukemia and the patient’s survival chance depends on it.
The cancer cells inhibit the growth of white blood cells and affect their functions. They attack the healthy cells too.
Leukemia also spreads to other parts of the body like the brain, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys.
Types of leukemia:-
These are several types of leukemia. Some are different in adults and children.
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
- Chronic Lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML)
- Leukemia in children.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia:-
It is also called ALL or lymphoblastic leukemia. It develops in bone marrow cells and is more common in children than in adults. These leukemia cells spread quickly and affect other organs and blood and lymph nodes
Acute myeloid leukemia:-
This has a variety of names like acute myelocytic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, non-lymphocytic leukemia, and AML. It is more common in old age people.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia:-
It develops in lymphocytes and bone marrow. One-third part of leukemias is lymphocytic. It affects older adults mainly.
Chronic myeloid leukemia:-
Another name for this is chronic myelogenous leukemia. This cancer starts in blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and spreads in blood. In adults, 15% of leukemias are CML.
Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia:-
This type of leukemia also invades in blood and starts developing in blood-forming cells. It is common in old age.
Leukemia in children:-
It is the most common cancer type in children and teenagers. Most leukemias are acute like AML and ALL. Rare cases are seen at a chronic level.
Symptoms of leukemia:-
Leukemia has several types and forms, and a person could develop any of them and some also gets worse quicker than any other type. The symptoms of leukemia depend on the type of leukemia that varies from person to person, depending on its type and condition. The common signs and symptoms of leukemia are :
- Fever and chills
- Weight loss
- Frequent infections
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Bleeding and nose bleeding
- Pain in bone and tenderness
- Pain in joints
- Abdominal pain
- Tiny red spots on the skin.
Most commonly the first symptom of leukemia is enlarged swollen lymph nodes with fever.
Factors that are involved in developing leukemia are:
People who previously had chemotherapies or radiotherapies are highly at risk of developing leukemia.
Genetic abnormalities are also the main factor of leukemia. People with Disorders like down syndrome are at high risk.
Benzene exposure also leads to a risk of leukemia.
Smoking is also responsible for developing leukemia such as AML.
Exposure to leukemia also increases the risk for AML, CML, ALL.
Blood disorder can also increase the risk of AML.
Drugs for chemotherapies also come in line.
People having a history of cancer or any other family member ever had are also at risk of developing leukemia.
However, some people develop leukemia, without having any of these factors, likewise having factors also doesn’t mean that a person develops leukemia.
Causes of Leukemia:-
The major causes of leukemia are not found still, as it is called a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Leukemia can occur due to mutations in the DNA of bone cells. They start to function differently inside the cell, guiding wrong instructions. These types of functions cause abnormal cells to grow. They divide quickly and spread rapidly. By the time these abnormal cells kill healthy living cells and affect their function. They kill all the healthy cells in the bone marrow and make the crowd there. Which then reduces the function and number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Leukemia can also develop due to blood disorders or blood cell disorders like thrombocytopenia, idiopathic myelofibrosis has chances to cause leukemia.
How is leukemia diagnosed?
Diagnosis for suspicion of leukemia starts with family history, physical examination, and a couple of tests. If a patient has leukemia without symptoms, it can be early diagnosed with a blood test. But if he/she has symptoms, they may go through some diagnosing tests like :
Physical examination:- The physician does the physical examination by checking the swollen lymph nodes if the patient is anemic or not, and enlargement of the liver or spleen by palpating the organ.
Tests:- It comprises specific imaging tests and diagnostic tests. First comes the complete blood count test, which shows the exact number of WBC’s, RBS’s, and platelets. Examining blood under a microscope also helps in making the diagnosis.
The second test is a biopsy. The doctor will remove some cells and examine the structure and abnormality. The cell sample can be taken from bone marrow or lymph nodes. To examine if the virus has spread or not, the physician took a sample from the liver or spleen too. It can be evidence of leukemia.
The bone marrow test is also done to see the characteristics of leukemia cells and their effect. This sample is taken from the bone marrow of the hip bone.
The treatment of leukemia is done based on age, stage, type of leukemia, and how much it is spread. As we know the signs and symptoms vary from person to person, just like this, the treatment method also varies and it depends on the stage and type and what type of therapy the patient required.
Common treatments to treat leukemia are :
- Chemotherapy: This treatment is common for cancer patients of all types. Oncologists induced drug chemicals inside the body to kill the abnormal cells and their rapid growth. In this procedure, one or a combination of many drugs can be used.
- Radiation therapy: This therapy is also major in cancer patients. It requires high energy rays or x-rays to pass through some points of the body and damage the abnormal cells and stop their abnormal growth.
- Targeted therapy: This therapy attacks the vulnerability of leukemia cells with the help of some targeted drugs. Like ‘IMATINIB’ (Gleevec) is a targeted drug that directly affects the protein of cancer cells and inhibits its function. It helps patients of CML.
- Immunotherapy: Immune therapy is also known as biological therapy. In this therapy, the physician uses the treatments to boost up our immune system and tells it to recognize, attack, and kill the cancerous cells.
- Bone marrow transplant: The final step for leukemia is the transplantation of infected bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. The bone marrow can be transplanted in 2 ways. Either autologous ( infusing your own bone marrow stem cells ) or autologous ( infusing healthy donor bone marrow cells ).
Before this procedure, the diseased bone marrow is destroyed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, then blood-forming stem cells are infused in the bone, which forms bone marrow again.
Before you leave let me tell you that 1% of deaths every year are due to leukemia worldwide from 2005 to 2014, and now from 2015 to 2013 it has been increased by 60%. This survey was done by NCI. These ranges include all types of leukemia and all the ages.
A student of Surgical Technology from Dow University of Health Sciences. She brings her expertise on surgical procedures, knowledge on Human Anatomy and Modern Day Surgeries to help students understand and learn easier ways and help patients understand hospital procedures before their surgeries.