Leukemia refers to the cancer of early blood-forming cells. Leukemia cells can quickly spread through blood and lymph nodes and reach other parts of the body, including the brain and spine (central nervous system). Most cases of Leukemia begin in the bone marrow (soft, spongy tissue inside the bone) and typically relate to early white blood cells (WBCs). However, there are chances that it may originate from other early blood cells too.
Leukemia is often associated with WBCs. White blood cells, AKA leukocytes or leucocytes, are the immune system’s main cells that help protect the body and fight against infectious diseases. They usually grow and divide in an ordered manner, depending on your body’s needs. The bone marrow abnormally increases the number of white blood cells in patients with Leukemia, and these cells do not work properly. The average age of diagnosis is 65, with a higher prevalence in people over 55. Worldwide, Leukemia accounted for 474,519 (2.5% of all new cancer cases) newly diagnosed cancer cases in 2020.
There are no known causes of Leukemia, with even scientists unsure of what exactly causes it. Hereditary and environmental factors may be responsible. In some cases, chromosome translocation can also promote the activation of cancer cells, leading to the development of the disease.
Leukemia appears when certain blood cells undergo changes or mutations in their genetic material (DNA). As a result, they cause abnormalities that lead to rapid cell growth and cell multiplication. Furthermore, this abnormal growth of cells persists over normal healthy blood cells over time. The increased blood cell production leads to a deterioration in the count of healthy white cells and red blood cells (RBCs), thus causing Leukemia.
Leukemia symptoms may vary based on the type of the disease. However, the symptoms can diverge depending on the immunity of the person. You should always remain alert if any symptoms persist, as they can become more severe over time.
Common Symptoms and Signs of Leukemia Includes:
- Red blood cells decrease
- Pain in the bones and tenderness
- Swollen lymph nodes – especially in the neck and armpits
- Vomiting and nausea
- Skin spots with red marks
- Unexpected headache
- Breathing issues
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Weakness and fatigue
- Bleeding occurs when the body’s platelet count drops
- Undesired weight loss
- Due to the lower WBC levels in the body, frequent and severe infections are more common
- Fever and chills
- Recurrent nose bleeds
Leukemia is common in children under 15 and adults over 45. It develops over time as it is not a one-time infection. It is vital to detect it in the early stages, as it can outrun the healthy blood cells and make you permanently sick. Leukemia symptoms include pale skin due to anemia, swelling in your lymph nodes, and can irritate your liver severely. Your doctor will examine a small amount of your blood to determine if there are any abnormalities in RBCs, WBCs, or platelets. This could indicate Leukemia.
The doctor may advise a procedure to remove bone marrow from your hip bone. A long, thin needle is used to remove the bone marrow, and the specimen is sent to a laboratory for testing for Leukemia cells. Special tests that examine the Leukemia cells may determine Leukemia treatment options.
The treatment for Leukemia entirely depends on the type you have, your age and general health, and if it has spread to other tissues or organs. Below you can find the available options for the treatment of Leukemia:
- Chemotherapy is the most common method of Leukemia treatment. The treatment uses chemical agents to kill cells that cause Leukemia. The dosage of the medicine – you could receive either a single drug or a mixture of medications – depends on the type of Leukemia. Drugs are available in pill form or can be injected directly into the veins.
- Targeted therapy includes using drugs to block specific DNA or protein that cancerous cells require to develop. This treatment could block Leukemia cells’ signals from multiplying and growing, cutting off their blood supply, or killing them completely.
- Stem cells transplant is a method to replace your bone marrow damaged by disease with healthy bone marrow. Before a stem cell transplantation, massive radiation therapy or chemotherapy doses are administered to kill your diseased bone marrow. After that, you receive an infusion of stem cells that form blood and aid in rebuilding the bone marrow.
- High-energy X-rays in radiotherapy eliminate Leukemia cells or stop their growth. It can be performed on all or only one part of the body where cancerous cells are located.
Leukemia diagnosis can be very upsetting, particularly for your child and family. Keeping your family and friends close will help you cope with the issue emotionally and physically.