ABSTRACT – Leukemia is the cancer of blood forming tissues or bone marrow. It occurs when there is an...
Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.
Many types of cancer exist. Some forms of this cancer are more common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults.
It usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with this disease, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don’t function properly.
Treatment can be complex — depending on the type of leukemia and other factors. But there are strategies and resources that can help to make your treatment successful.
Symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. Common signs and symptoms include:
Fever or chills
Persistent fatigue, weakness
Frequent or severe infections
Losing weight without trying
Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
Easy bleeding or bruising
Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
Excessive sweating, especially at night
Bone pain or tenderness
Scientists don’t understand the exact causes of this disease. It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
How it forms
In general, it is thought to occur when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA — the instructions inside each cell that guide its action. There may be other changes in the cells that have yet to be fully understood that could contribute to this disease.
Certain abnormalities cause the cell to grow and divide more rapidly and to continue living when normal cells would die. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, causing the signs and symptoms of this disease.
How it is classified
Doctors classify leukemia based on its speed of progression and the type of cells involved.
The first type of classification is by how fast the it progresses:
Acute leukemia. In this, the abnormal blood cells are immature blood cells (blasts). They can’t carry out their normal functions, and they multiply rapidly, so the disease worsens quickly. Acute leukemia requires aggressive, timely treatment.
Chronic leukemia. There are many types of chronic leukemias. Some produce too many cells and some cause too few cells to be produced. Chronic leukemia involves more mature blood cells. These blood cells replicate or accumulate more slowly and can function normally for a period of time. Some forms of chronic leukemia initially produce no early symptoms and can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years.
The second type of classification is by type of white blood cell affected:
Lymphocytic leukemia. This type of leukemia affects the lymphoid cells (lymphocytes), which form lymphoid or lymphatic tissue. Lymphatic tissue makes up your immune system.
Myelogenous (my-uh-LOHJ-uh-nus) leukemia. This type of leukemia affects the myeloid cells. Myeloid cells give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet-producing cells.
There are various types of leukemia, and they affect people differently. Treatment options will depend on the type of leukemia and the person’s age and overall state of health.
Progress in medicine means that treatment can now aim for complete remission, where the cancer goes away completely for at least 5 years after treatment.
In 1975, the chances of surviving for 5 years or more after receiving a diagnosis of leukemia were 33.1 percent. By 2009, this figure had risen to 62.9 percent.
The main type of treatment is chemotherapy. This will be tailored to the type of cancer a patient has.
If treatment starts early, the chance of remission is higher.
Types of treatment include:
stem cell transplantation
Chemotherapy can affect the whole body, but targeted therapy is aimed at a specific part of the cancer cell.
Some types of chronic leukemia do not need treatment in the early stages, but monitoring is essential. The oncologist may suggest watchful waiting with frequent doctor’s visits.
For a type of leukemia known as chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a bone marrow transplant may be effective. Younger patients are more likely to undergo transplantation successfully.