Leukemia is the cancer characterized by the abnormal proliferation of leukocytes or white blood cells. It is classified into several groups, of which the main types are, acute leukemia and chronic leukemia. Both acute and chronic leukemia can be either lymphocytic leukemia or myelogenous leukemia.
Acute leukemia is characterized by the rapid proliferation of immature white blood cells, while chronic form of the diseases progresses slowly, and causes the accumulation of abnormal white blood cells over a period of time.
The bone marrow cells make excessive lymphocytes that do not become mature, healthy white blood cells. Lymphocytic leukemia is the cancer of the bone marrow cells, that are concerned with the production of lymphocytes. Myelogenous leukemia, on the other hand, is the cancer of the bone marrow, that results in the abnormal proliferation of the myeloid cells.
Causes of Chronic Leukemia
This cancer is generally associated with chromosomal abnormalities, and genetic mutations of the cells, which are concerned with the production of blood cells. Certain factors have been found to increase the risk of developing such chromosomal and genetic abnormalities.
Some such important risk factors are, exposure to ionizing radiation, and chemicals like benzene and some herbicides and insecticides, and the exposure to human T-lymphocytic virus and chemotherapy agents. Moreover, individuals with a family history of chronic lymphocytic leukemia have a higher risk of developing this cancer. However, chronic myelogenous leukemia has not been found to be an inherited condition.
Signs of Chronic Leukemia
The symptoms can be vague or non-specific in the early stage of the disease. Such vague symptoms can include fatigue and malaise. Individuals with chronic myelogenous leukemia can experience excessive tiredness, night sweats, fever, and frequent infections. The affected individual can also lose weight for no apparent reason, and feel pain and fullness below the ribs.
Other important symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia are, loss of appetite, pale skin, and easy bleeding or bruising. Similarly, those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia can also experience fatigue, fever, frequent infections, and weight loss, along with the swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, groin, stomach, and the underarm.
The symptoms of this cancer develop slowly and gradually. Over a period of time, some serious conditions, like the enlargement of the spleen and the liver can develop. The enlargement of the spleen is termed as splenomegaly, which is caused by the accumulation of abnormal white blood cells in this organ. Splenomegaly is known to cause abdominal discomforts, and a feeling of fullness, that can be experienced after eating a very small amount of food.
Neutropenia is another condition that may develop due to chronic leukemia. It is characterized by the deficiency of neutrophils, which can impair the body's ability to fight infections. This makes the affected individuals more prone to develop frequent infections. Apart from these, anemia or a deficiency of red blood cells, dizziness, and bone and joint pain are some other leukemia symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
This cancer is diagnosed with the help of physical examination, a complete evaluation of the symptoms, and some diagnostic tests. A physical examination of the patient often reveals an enlarged spleen. The diagnostic tests that are employed for this cancer are, a complete blood count test, bone marrow aspiration, and biopsy.
Another important diagnostic test is fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), that can examine chromosomal abnormalities of the lymphocytes. The medications that are usually prescribed for the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia are, Imatinib (Gleevec), Dasatinib (Sprycel), and Nilotinib (Tasigna). On the other hand, drugs like rituximab and alemtuzumab are commonly used for treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Chemotherapy drugs are also used to control the proliferation of white blood cells temporarily.
A complete cure can be provided with bone marrow transplant or blood stem cell transplant. However, there are certain risks associated with this treatment, for which it is suggested only when all the other treatment options fail to provide relief. Another treatment option is biological therapy, where the body's immune system is stimulated with the help of certain drugs like interferons, in order to control the growth of the cancerous cells.
The prognosis of this cancer is usually good or positive, as the diseases advances slowly. The key factor is the diagnosis of the condition in the early stage. For this, it is important to know and identify the symptoms promptly, which are usually vague and non-specific to begin with. Therefore, any kind of unusual and persistent fatigue, malaise, unexplained weight loss, as well as the appearance of swollen, but painless lymph nodes in the body should not be neglected, and immediately reported to a physician.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.