Leukemia refers to the cancer of the blood cells, which are formed in the bone marrow of the body. There are essentially three types of blood cells namely - red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Leukemia usually negatively influences the white blood cells, which are responsible for maintaining the immune system functions in the body.
This form of blood cancer normally affects children and is a very rare type of cancer, similar to kidney and liver cancer. Also Read: Kidney Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
The main cause of leukemia is abnormal genetic i.e. DNA modifications, in the white blood cells of the body. This results in the rapid rate of multiplication of these cells in people with leukemia, when compared to a normal, healthy individual. These aberrant and damaged white blood cells eventually outnumber the strong and robust white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, giving rise to typical indications of leukemia.
Leukemia is classified based on two criteria - how quickly the disease progresses and which type of white blood cell is affected.
The former types include:
1. Acute Leukemia:
Here, the irregular blood cells are immature blood cells called blasts, which proliferate very swiftly. As this category of leukemia advances at an alarming pace, critical and timely treatment is necessary.
2. Chronic Leukemia:
In this situation, the atopical and asymmetrical white blood cells are mature and the disease spreads at a slow rate. Hence, symptoms tend to show up only later on and diagnosis is difficult in initial stages.
The latter classification comprises:
1. Lymphocytic Leukemia:
This sub-type of blood cancer targets the lymphoid tissue and lymphocyte cells in the body, found in the lymph nodes and is a part of the immune system.
2. Myelogenous Leukemia:
Here, the normal division and development of myeloid cells is affected. This special cell type grows and differentiates into white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Based on these systems of classification, leukemias are mostly of four different variations – acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
As leukemia is quite dangerous and can be fatal, immediate medical treatment is recommended as soon as any symptoms are recognised in an otherwise healthy person, particularly during a routine blood test.
The distinguishing signs of leukemia consist of:
- Bleeding profusely in instances of minor injuries
- Excessive sweating, especially during the night
- Sudden weight loss
- Exhaustion, fatigue and fever
- Small red marks appearing on the skin, called petechiae
- Unbearable pain in bones
Diagnosis And Treatment:
The cancer doctor, also known as an oncologist or a blood ailment specialist called a haematologist will initially examine the external factors of the patient, such as pale skin due to anemia or bulging of lymph nodes.
Next, blood samples and bone marrow tissues are extracted, to analyse the nature of growth and division of cells and scrutinize for occurrences of abnormally shaped blood cells.
Once the diagnosis of leukemia is confirmed, and the type and extent of progression of the blood cancer have been determined, the healthcare provider initiates appropriate treatment measures.
1. Stem Cell Transplant:
This involves a complex and advanced procedure that replaces the damaged bone marrow and stem cells with healthy bone marrow from a matching donor. Also Read: Stem Cell Transplant: Learn How It Can Usher A New Lease Of Life
Prescriptions medications to specifically attack and destroy the cancerous cells in the system are advised to be taken daily by the patient, in order to eliminate the tumourous cells in the body, without harming the healthy blood cells.
Here, the surgeon utilizes high energy X-rays or proton beams, to directly target the metastasizing cancer cells and eradicate them, without causing any injury to neighbouring healthy tissues.
In addition, following a healthy diet with regular exercise and steering clear of alcohol, tobacco and a sedentary daily routine can vastly promote quicker healing and recovery from leukemia, reducing the chances of recurrence of blood cancer.