What is Leukemia?
Also known as blood cancer. It is a cancer of the cells and tissues in the blood. It restrains the body’s ability to fight and destroy infections and diseases. It makes the body weak to prevent infections and disease-causing organisms from entering the body system.
It is generally referred to as Cancer of the White blood cells (WBCs). White blood cells are cells in the body responsible for protection against foreign bodies or substances and micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi.
Invasion of micro-organisms in the body in the body could multiply so fast and outnumber normal cells in the body. They are normally formed in the bone marrow but some types of white blood cells (WBCs) are formed in the lymph nodes, spleen and thymus gland.
Once produced, White blood cells (WBCs) flow round the body in the blood and lymph (fluid in the lymphatic system) but mostly in the lymph nodes and spleen.
Risk factors responsible for Leukemia
The causes are yet unknown. However, several factors have been found to increase one’s risk of having Leukemia.
· A family history of Leukemia
· Smoking: This increases the risk of developing Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
· Exposure to high levels of radiation
· Exposure to chemicals such as Benzene
· Genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome
Other factors that could affect the appearance of one diagnosed with Leukemia include:
· Chromosome and
· Old age
· Past history of blood disorders
Types of Leukemia
Leukemia can be acute or chronic. In acute Leukemia, cancer cells multiply rapidly. In chronic Leukemia, onset of the disease is often slow and symptoms may be mild.
Leukemia is categorized according to the type of cell. There are four major types of Leukemia.
· Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML):
This type of Leukemia occurs in both children and adults. They are caused by myeloid cells. Myeloid cells are immature and could be granulocytes and monocytes.
· Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL):
This type occurs mostly in children. It involves lymphocytes unlike Acute Myeloid Leukemia that involves granulocytes or monocytes (myeloid cells).
· Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML):
This type of Leukemia affects mostly adults. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI), an estimate of 9,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.
· Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL):
This type mostly affects people over 55 years old. This type also rarely affects children. According to NCI, about 20,000 new cases of CLL are diagnosed annually.
A rare subtype of CLL is Hairy cell Leukemia. It’s name is derived from the outlook of the cancerous lymphocytes when viewed under a microscope.
Symptoms of Leukemia
· Mouth ulcer
· Shortness of breath
· Petechiae (red spots on the skin)
· Fatigue, weakness and dizziness
· Fever or chills
· Bleeding and easy bruising
· Unintentional weight loss due to loss of appetite
· Pain especially in the bones or joints
· Enlargement of the liver or spleen
· Sweating most especially at nights
Leukemia also causes symptoms in organs that have been affected by cancer cells. Leukemia can also spread to other parts of the body system.
Parts of the body system that could also be affected include:
· Gastrointestinal Tract
One could be suspected of having Leukemia if him or her start showing symptoms or risk factors. A complete history (including family) and physical examination. Leukemia can’t be fully diagnosed through physical exam rather samples of blood would be gotten and tested, biopsies and imaging tests can also be used for diagnosis.
Tests for Leukemia
There are numerous tests that can be used to diagnose Leukemia.
· Complete blood count: This determines the number of red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells(WBCs), and platelets in the blood.
· Using a microscope: This shows the appearance of the cells if normal or abnormal.
· Tissue Biopsies: Can be gotten from the bone marrow or lymph nodes to determine if one has leukemia or not.
These tests samples can determine the type of Leukemia and its progression overtime. Also biopsies of other organs such as the spleen and liver can show if there are cancerous cells and how much damage they have caused.
STAGES OF LEUKEMIA
After diagnosis of the Leukemia, staging becomes the next step to take. It helps determine the type of Leukemia cells one has and the outlook of the cells when viewed under the microscope.
Acute and Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia are both staged according to:
· The white blood cells count at that time of diagnosis.
· The presence of myeloblasts (immature white blood cells) in the blood and bone marrow.
HOW TO ASSESS THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEUKEMIA IN THE BODY
In checking and keeping track of the growth rate of the disease, various tests can be conducted.
· Imaging testssuch as X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans. These tests help specialists or doctors search for affected organs caused by Leukemia.
· Liver Function Test: This shows If the liver is being affected by Leukemia cells.
· Lumbar Puncture: This is used to gather spinal fluid to the Central Nervous System (CNS). This is done by inserting a thin needle between the vertebrae of one’s lower back.
· Flow Cytometry:This determines the progression of the Leukemia cells by thorough examination of the DANA of the Leukemia cells.
Leukemia is normally treated by specialists known as Hematologist or Oncologist. They are doctors who specialize in blood disorders and cancers. Treatment of Leukemia develop slowly and don’t need urgent treatment.
Treatment of Leukemia could be one or a combination of two treatment methods.
· Biological or Immune therapy: Treatment is based on strengthening and developing immune system to help recognize and destroy cancer cells.
· Radiation therapy: This uses high energy radiation to destroy Leukemia cells and stop their development. Radiation can be used on the whole body or certain areas in the body.
· Cell Transplantation: This is the replacement of diseased bone marrow with an healthy bone marrow. Also known as bone marrow transplant.
· Targeted therapy: This makes use of medications that take advantage of weaknesses in cancer cells.
The aftermath appearances of people diagnosed with Leukemia solely depends on the type of cancer and their stage. The earlier Leukemia is diagnosed and the faster the treatment, the higher and better the chances of recovery.
Outcomes after treatment of Leukemia differs in people and is not quite foretelling. It is recommended that one works with his or her specialist and medical team in treatment of Leukemia.