What is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood and starts from the stem cells. The stem cells are the most basic cells that develop into various different types of cells namely the RBCs, WBCs, and the Platelets. They are produced in the bone marrow, spleen, thymus gland, and lymph nodes. Leukemia is the cancer of the WBCs. When the WBCs become cancerous it starts to divide very quickly and starts crowding the normal cells. The different types of leukemia are:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
Some of the symptoms of leukemia are:
- Weakness and fatigue that does not reduce even after taking enough rest
- Sweating excessively especially at nights
- Tenderness in the bone accompanied by pain
- Easy bruising and bleeding Anemia
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling full all the time
- Frequent infections, fever or chills
- Liver or spleen enlargement
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Petechiae or red spots on the skin
Leukemia spread to other parts of the body like the lungs, kidney, heart, GI tract, testes, the central nervous system, etc. When that happens it can lead to other symptoms like headaches, vomiting, seizures, confusion, and lack of muscle control. Many of the symptoms can be due to other illnesses and hence proper diagnosis by a leukemia doctor is necessary.
Who is at Risk?
There are many factors that are identified as risk factors for getting leukemia. Leukemia risk factors are:
- Though it is not exactly hereditary, many types of leukemia are due to mutations. So people who have these genetic mutations have a higher risk of leukemia.
- Smokers have a high likelihood of having Acute Myeloid Leukemia which is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
- Chances of blood cancer are high in people having down syndrome which is a genetic disorder and those having myelodysplastic syndrome which is a blood disorder
- People with exposure to chemicals like benzene, high levels of radiation, using hair dyes, pesticides, etc are at risk
- People who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment for any previous instance of cancer are likely to have this cancer.
The exact reasons for leukemia are not known and a combination of genetics and environmental factors is thought to be involved.
Leukemia happens as the DNA of the white cells gets damaged. The WBCs are an important part of the immune system as it aids in fighting infections. But due to the damage, the blood cells divide quickly and grow uncontrollably. It starts to crowd the healthy RBCs which are needed for the normal functioning of the body and new WBCs replace them. Moreover, the abnormal cells do not die like normal cells and hence occupy more space. Slowly the cancerous cells outnumber the healthy cells in the blood and prevent the body from functioning optimally.
Physicians or pediatricians will start with a medical and family history of an adult if certain symptoms point to leukemia. It is followed by a physical examination though it cannot be diagnosed using it. If leukemia is suspected, the following Leukemia test is ordered.
- Blood tests: A CBC is done to check the count of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets in the blood. Any abnormalities can also be found when checked under a microscope.
- Biopsy: If the doctor decides the blood tests are not normal, a biopsy is done by taking a tissue sample from lymph nodes or bone marrow. It helps to learn about the growth and type of leukemia. Liver and spleen tissue samples are also taken to check it has spread to other organs.
How Is Leukemia Treated?
Leukemia cure depends on the type, age, and overall health of the person. Some of the Leukemia Treatment options are:
- Wait and watch: This is done in case of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Sometimes a leukemia doctor does not actively treat it.
- Chemotherapy: This is the main treatment for most types of leukemia and medicine for leukemia is administered through IV. This is done to target and kill cancerous cells.
- Targeted therapy: Inhibitors are used to only target cancer cells leaving the good cells alone.
- Radiation therapy: Done to destroy bone marrow tissue
- Surgery: To remove the spleen
- Stem cell transplantation: Injecting new stem cells into the bone marrow.
Early treatment increases the chances of achieving remission. Contact our experienced oncologists at Cure.fit, to get the right treatment and achieve remission.
How can Leukemia be Prevented?
Leukemia prevention is vital, read on to understand how you can reduce the risk of by following these measures:
- Quit smoking: Smoking increases the risk of leukemia. So smokers should make an effort to quit smoking to reduce the chances of leukemia.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: There are studies that show that people who are obese or consume certain types of food are at risk of leukemia. Hence eating healthily and maintaining an optimal weight is essential.
- Avoid breathing chemicals: Avoid long-term contact with formaldehyde and benzene.