Leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is the cancer of the blood cells. It originates and spreads in the blood and bone marrow, where the formation of the red blood cells, the white blood cells, and the platelets takes place. While the red blood cells are responsible for the supply of oxygen to our body, and the platelets help our blood clot, the white blood cells function in order to keep our body safe from infections and illnesses. In other words, the white blood cells provide us with immunity against illnesses.
It is a sudden and uncontrollable increase in the count of these white blood cells in the blood and in the bone marrow that amounts to leukemia. These abnormally grown cells are known as the leukemia cells. They do not perform the function of the normal white blood cells, there is such an explosion in their number, and they tend to outgrow all the normal blood cells. This sudden increase in their number may lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding due to decrease in the number of platelets, or several allergic reactions.
Types of Leukemia
In general terms, leukemia is divided into two kinds, viz. acute and chronic. A patient having acute leukemia tends to feel sick with immediate effect, as it spreads very fast. A patient of chronic leukemia, however, may not even realize that he has been affected for years together, as it tends to spread very slowly. Again, on the basis of the kind of white blood cells that are affected, leukemia is divided into two categories, viz. Lymphocytic, meaning the one which affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, and Myelogenous, meaning the one which affects white blood cells called myelocytes. So, in general, the four main types of leukemia are:
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
- Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Fever, the cause of which is unknown
- Constant bleeding
- Pain in the bones
- Swollen abdomen
- Repeated infections and allergies
- Red spots on the skin
- Sudden and rapid weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
- Painful abdomen, sometimes caused due to an enlarged spleen
- Enlargement of lymph nodes, but no pain
- Night sweat
- Recurrent infections
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
- Sudden fever
- Bruises on the skin
- Frequent and recurrent infections
- Pale skin
- Bleeding from the nose and gums
- Continuous and uncontrollable bleeding
- Rapid weight loss
- Loss of Appetite
- Night sweat
Symptoms may differ from person to person depending on what kind of leukemia he or she is affected by. Moreover, even if two given persons have been affected with the same type of leukemia, the symptoms they show may differ from each other as every human body is unique in its own way. However, some common symptoms which can be experienced at this juncture may include:
- Frequent occurrence of bruises
- Bleeding that cannot be stopped easily
- Frequent headaches
- Lack of hunger and rapid weight loss
- Tonsil infection
- High fever
- Severe pneumonia
- Night sweat
- Swelling in lymph nodes leading to nausea
It is very important to note that there is no prescribed manual that describes the causes and symptoms of leukemia. Like every other kind of cancer, leukemia also brings about certain bodily changes within a person, that may further lead to a more acute kind of disorder. However, if and when one notes any of the common symptoms that may be of leukemia, he should not delay the matter any further, and consult a doctor immediately. After all, prevention is always better than cure.
On complete physical examination, a doctor would check for any kind of swelling in the lymph nodes, or an enlargement in your liver or spleen. One would also be asked to do a blood test so that the doctor can also check for any kind of increase in the count of the white blood cells, and for reduction in the count of the red blood cells and the platelets. Sometimes, a patient may suffer from aleukemia.
Aleukemia is a state where all the cancerous cells which are formed in the bone marrow stay within the bone marrow itself, and do not spread across the rest of the body. In such a case, an increase in the number of cancerous cells is not noticeable in the blood report. For dealing with this situation, one might be asked to do a bone marrow biopsy, a test that can check the cells inside one's bone marrow. It is only after checking for all such possibilities that a doctor is actually able to diagnose whether the patient is suffering from leukemia, and if yes, then the nature of the same. Once this procedure is completed, the doctor begins with the actual treatment.
Leukemia treatment, again, differs on the basis of its kind and severity. It also depends upon the past medical record of the patient. The age of the patient is also another important factor. Acute leukemia needs quick and immediate treatment, because in such a case, the rapid growth of white blood cells can be stopped or at least be remitted. Chronic leukemia, however, is rarely curable. This is because, in many instances, the symptoms just don't show up. Therefore, diagnosing it becomes difficult, due to which, it rarely gets noticed in the early stages.
Some of the treatment options that the patients of leukemia often undergo include:
- Chemotherapy, which is the main treatment of all kinds of leukemia. It involves using medicines that aid in killing cancerous cells.
- Radiation therapy, which uses powerful X-rays to kill cancerous cells.
- Stem cell transplant, which facilitates the supply of normal blood cells in the body.
Researchers have been constantly trying to find out new ways and means in order to diagnose and treat leukemia in a better manner. Numerous clinical trials happen every year that test new medicines and treatments that can help in curing leukemia. At times, people suffering from serious leukemia take part in such clinical trials, and sometimes their cancer is successfully cured or at least remitted. But while making any such attempt, one needs to keep in mind that such tests also have a large risk factor involved, as they may sometimes lead to incurable side effects. The most feasible way is to consult an experienced doctor immediately, and follow his course of treatment sincerely and religiously.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.