Blood Cancer (Leukemia): A Detailed Summary
Many times we hear the word leukaemia. In layman language, it is commonly known as blood cancer. The word has its origin in Greek language in which “Leukos” means white and “amia” means blood. Although, the word suggests that there is cancer of white blood cells, the red blood cells and platelets can also get affected.
A cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of particular cells of the body. in leukaemia, there is abnormal and uncontrolled growth of the cells which arise from bone marrow.
Causes of Leukaemia:
The exact causes of leukaemia are not known. Cancers occur due to mutation in the DNA. Some of the tumour suppressor genes are deactivated and some of the oncogenic genes are activated. Over the last few decades, the associated risk factors have been identified. Some of them are listed below:
- Exposure to ionic radiation
- Few viruses such as HTLV
- Some chemicals such as benzene and other chemotherapy drugs for previous cancers
- Use of tobacco
- People with down syndrome
- Family history of blood cancer
- History of fertility drugs in mother
Types of Leukaemia:
They are classified depending upon the type of the cells involved and the time for which the disease is present. There are mainly 4 types, listed as follows:
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia:
ALL develops in a short duration of time and it affects the lymphocytes of the body. the lymphocytes are the immune cells of the body.
Acute myelogenous leukaemia:
AML also has a short time line of development and it arises in bone marrow cells responsible for forming red blood cells and platelets.
Chronic lymphoblastic leukaemia:
CLL is slow build- up of relatively mature white blood cells which still have some abnormality. They might be presented as an illness after a long time of progression even after months or years.
Chronic myelogenous leukaemia:
CML also takes years to develop and show any symptoms. It affects mainly cells arising from myeloid cells series in the bone marrow.There are other leukaemia such as hairy cell leukaemia, large granulocytic leukaemia, T cell poly-lymphocytic leukaemia etc.
Symptoms of Leukaemia:
Different type of leukaemia may present with different types of symptoms. The common symptoms of all these disorders can be enumerated as follows:
- Fatigue, Tired ness
- Recurrent infections
- Severe unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen gland or lymph nodes
- Bone pain
- Joint pain
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Small red spots on the skin
- If the cancer is spread to the brain, there might be complaints of head ache, vomiting, migraine attacks, seizures etc.
Following diagnostic tests are conducted to diagnose leukaemia:
- Complete blood tests: blood tests will show the abnormal raised or reduced counts of affected cells.
- Bone marrow aspiration: it will show the presence of abnormal cells in the bone marrow.
- Bone marrow biopsy: it is a better test for diagnosis as a piece of bone marrow is removed and then examined under the microscope.
- Lymph node biopsy: it is also helpful in diagnosing leukaemia.
- Imaging tests: image based tests such as X ray, sonography, CT scan, MRI Are also useful in diagnosing the spread of the disease.
There are multiple treatments available for leukaemia. The treatment modality depends upon the type of leukaemia, the age of the patient, as well as the health status. Various treatment modalities used are as follows:
- Chemotherapy: chemotherapy is the mainstay of the treatment of leukaemia.
- Radiation: radiotherapy also shows positive response to leukaemia.
- Targeted therapy: it targets the cancer cells and avoid damage to the normal body tissues. Hence there are less side effects as compared to chemo or radiation treatment.
- Biological therapy: in this, living organisms, or substances from living organisms are used. It includes various tumour vaccines and antibodies.
- Bone marrow transplant: replacing the damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow is a very effective method.
- Supportive measures: various vaccines are advised as the person with leukaemia have increased risk of developing infections due to dysfunction of the white blood cells.
- Palliative treatments: these are the treatments given to make the patient more comfortable while going through the chemo, radiation treatment cycles such as anti- nausea meds etc.
There are no known ways to prevent leukaemia. Although reducing he exposure to above mentioned risk factors might help in reducing the chances.