There are some easily identifiable symptoms that can ensure early diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia. This article highlights the symptoms as well as treatment options. Read on…
Acute promyelocytic leukemia, also known as APL, is a cancer of the blood cells. It is characterized by uncontrolled growth of promyelocytes, which are actually immature white blood cells. This kind of abnormal proliferation of promyelocytes adversely affects growth of normal and healthy white and red blood cells as well as platelets in the body. It falls into the category of acute leukemia mainly because the growth of the cancerous cells occur quite rapidly. It is more commonly found in small children who are aged in between 1 or 2 years and in adults who are above the age of 40 years.
The acute promyelocytic leukemia symptoms show up when there is insufficiency of healthy blood cells and platelets in the body. Some signs and symptoms that are commonly observed in patients are given below.
There is excessive bleeding (in promyelocytic leukemia patients) that refuses to stop. This problem arises due to lack of blood platelets in the body. The platelets play a major role in clotting of the blood by which bleeding is stopped. Low production of platelets has an adverse impact on the clotting mechanism of the body. It leads to profuse bleeding even from minor cuts or injuries. Other instances of serious bleeding include blood in the urine, heavy nosebleeds, bleeding gums, etc. Women with acute promyelocytic leukemia tend to experience heavy bleeding during menstrual periods.
Bruise marks tend to develop under the skin quite easily. It can be identified with small red or purple colored dots on the skin surface and are also known as petechiae. Such marks appear because of hemorrhages in the small blood vessels lying under the skin surface.
APL patients often get fever and various infections. The white blood cells protect the body from infections. A person with APL may have high white blood cells but most of them are abnormal leukemia cells, which cannot fight any infection. As a result, they become susceptible to minor or major infections.
Pain and discomfort is experienced in various joints in the body like the knee joint, hip joint, etc. This happens particularly when the abnormal leukemic cells grow in numbers and start spreading outside the bone marrow cavity.
Some APL patients tend to develop anemia as there is a decrease in production of red blood cells. General symptoms that are observed in this condition are fatigue, tiredness, shortness of breath on performing activities, loss of appetite, paleness of skin, unexplained weight loss, etc.
Acute promyelocytic leukemia is diagnosed with the help of a series of laboratory tests that include bone marrow biopsy and a number of blood tests. Promyelocytic leukemia patients undergo treatment with the help of all-trans retinoic acid, which is also known as ATRA. This substance is basically a derivative of vitamin A that enables the cancerous white blood cells to mature into healthy white blood cells. The uniqueness of ATRA treatment is that it does not destroy the malignant cells. To yield best results from the use of ATRA, it is often combined with anthracycline based chemotherapy. Those patients who do not show good response towards ATRA and chemotherapy and show signs of relapse of the leukemia are then treated with arsenic trioxide or ATO. It is again followed by chemotherapy. In case leukemia reappears after this treatment, doctors may opt for stem cell transplantation in order to reduce the chances of relapse in future.
In 90% of the cases, remission is possible with the right kind of treatment. You will be pleased to know that acute promyelocytic leukemia survival rate is about 75%. However, as there are chances of relapse, those who are diagnosed with it in the past should be alert. At any point of time, if even mild symptoms are noticed, then one shouldn’t waste time in visiting his/her doctor for a thorough check up.