Overview | Development | Types | Causes | Symptoms | Risks factors | Diagnosis | Treatment |
What is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a form of cancer which affects our body’s blood-forming tissues, including RBCs, WBCs, tissues, and all lymphatic system. But, leukemia broadly deals with white blood cells.
White blood cells are one of the most prominent parts of our immune system. Because these cells protect us from the unwanted and abrupt attacks of microorganisms, such as bacteria, virus etc. It also fights abnormal cells and other foreign substances.
There are several types of leukemia, some are dangerous for children, while some types attack adults 65 or more age.
What does Leukemia do in your body?
In leukaemia, there is the abrupt and rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that takes place in the bone marrow of our bones. These cells then flow into our bloodstream. That’s why leukaemia is generally called blood cancer and cancer of white blood cells. Although, leukaemia is a form of cancer it does not form a tumour. It is called leukaemia because it deals with WBC’s or leukocytes. In Greek, ‘leukosis means white and ‘haima’ means blood.
Fact: Leukaemia is considered a rare disease, with less than 1 million cases in India, each year.
How leukemia develops and affects our body (Cause of Leukemia)?
Blood cells multiply and divide into RBC’s, WBC’s, platelets etc. After the development of leukaemia in our body, one of these cells begins to multiply with high speed (generally WBC’s) abnormally. These cells are called leukaemia cells. Leukaemia cells in bone marrow multiply and take over most of these bone marrow, this creates a hindrance in the development of red blood cells or the remaining healthy cells. This affects our body in several ways such as —
- They take over space and hinder the development of healthy cells.
- Leukaemia cells are of no use.
- The other healthy cells have very little space to grow which creates an unfavourable condition.
- This results in very few amount of healthy cells and a large number of leukaemia cells in the bloodstream. Several unfavourable conditions occur as lack of oxygen supply in the organs and tissues, inability to blood clot formation (if needed), inability to fight infections etc.
Generally, leukemia cells are immature white blood cells.
Types of Leukemia:
- Acute lymphocytic Leukemia(ALL) – This is one of the most common types of leukaemia, especially in the case of children. It affects adults also. In this, the leukaemia cells divide and spread quickly. You may feel the symptoms within few weeks after the formation of leukaemia cells. It is the most common paediatric cancer.
- Acute myelogenous Leukemia(AML) – Is the most common type of leukaemia found in adults. Mostly diagnosed in children and adults. When the leukaemia is formed within the myeloid or myelogenous cell line found in RBCs, WBCs and platelets, then the leukaemia refers as myelogenous leukaemia.
- Chronic lymphocytic Leukemia(CLL) – It is the most common chronic adult leukaemia. One can feel healthy for years without treatment, even if suffering from this. Chronic leukaemia cells have features of both, mature and immure cells. If you have this type of leukaemia, you may not get any symptoms for years, but it is chronic and becomes worse as it develops
- Chronic myelogenous Leukemia(CML) – In this, the phase which increases the rate of growth of leukaemia cells starts after months or even years later, after getting leukaemia. The sufferer may or may not experience any symptoms. Adults are more likely to get this leukaemia. It develops in the myelogenous line of the cells and gets worsen with time.
Symptoms of Leukemia:
The symptoms of leukemia depend upon the types of leukemia and vary accordingly. Although, there are some common symptoms also, including –
- Persistent fatigue
- Low energy
- Pale skin tone
- Unintentional weight loss
- Bleeding gums
- Severe infections occurring frequently
- Purplish patches on the skin
- Easy bleeding and bruising
- Shortness of breath
- Swallowing in the lymph nodes
- Pain under the ribs on the left side.
- Recurrent nose bleeds
- Poor blood clotting
- Pain in bones
- Tiny red spots on the skins
- Flu-like symptoms
- Excessive sweating, especially at night.
- Headache (sometimes)
- Enlarged liver or spleen
Risks factors :
- Previous cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation
- Excessive and prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals
- Using hair dyes
- Genetic disorders such as down syndrome etc.
- Exposure to electromagnetic fields
- Artificial ionization radiation
- Blood disorders
- Certain viruses such as HTLV – 1
- Exposure to benzene
- Family history
- Inherited immune conditions such as bloom syndrome
- Immune suppression
Diagnosis of leukemia starts with physical examination followed by blood test and if your doctor discover something suspicious, then imaging tests and bone marrow biopsy can also be conducted, to clear the picture of your condition.
Physical examination – Your doctor will ask you about any symptoms you are experiencing, then your doctor can check, whether you have any lymph nodes, red patches, or any other symptoms of leukaemia.
Complete blood count (CBC) – Through this test, one can easily know about the number of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets present in your body. If you are suffering from leukemia, then the count of red blood cells and platelets must below the normal one. And the count of WBCs will be high, while some leukemia cells may be found.
Blood cell examination – Through this, your doctor gets to know about the shape and abnormalities of blood cells, if present due to leukemia.
Bone marrow biopsy – If your white blood cell count is abnormal, then to diagnose leukaemia, your doctor may take a sample of fluid cells from your bone marrow. Through this, your doctor can easily know the number of abnormal cells, based on this your doctor can confirm the diagnosis of leukaemia.
Some other tests:
- Chest X-ray
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Lumbar puncture
Treatment of leukaemia broadly depends on the type of leukaemia, your overall health and age, and if the leukaemia is already spread to your other organs or not. Treatment can be –
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Bone marrow transplant
Your doctor will make a plan regarding your treatment, which can include any of these or maybe some of these treatment methods, depending upon your leukaemia type and its symptoms, your health and age.