Leukemia is a cancer of the blood, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal blood cells. This uncontrolled growth takes place in your bone marrow, where most of your body’s blood is made. Such cells are usually immature (still developing) white blood cells.
Unlike other cancers, leukemia doesn’t generally form a mass (tumor) that shows up in imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans.
How does leukemia affect you?
Having too many such type of cells and too few normal cells is harmful for several reasons:
• Leukemia cells serve no purpose in keeping you healthy.
• Normal blood cells have very little space and support to mature and multiply inside of your bone marrow because the leukemia cells overtake them.
• Fewer red blood cells, healthy white blood cells and platelets are made and released into your blood. As a result, your body’s organs and tissues won’t get the oxygen needed to work properly. Also, your body won’t be able to fight infections or form blood clots when needed.
It is grouped by how fast it develops and gets worse, and by which type of blood cell is involved.
The first group, how fast it develops, is divided into following types-
• Acute leukemia happens when most of the abnormal blood cells don’t mature and can’t carry out normal functions. It can get bad very fast.
• Chronic leukemia happens when there are some immature cells, but others are normal and can work the way they should. It gets bad more slowly than acute forms do.
The second group, what type of cell is involved, is divided into following types –
• Lymphocytic (or lymphoblastic) leukemia involves bone marrow cells that become lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell.
• Myelogenous (or myeloid) leukemia involves the marrow cells that create red blood cells, platelets, and other kinds of white blood cells.
The four main types includes –
• Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). This is the most common form of childhood leukemia. It can spread to your lymph nodes and central nervous system.
• Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). This is the second most common form of childhood leukemia and one of the most common forms for adults.
• Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This is the other most common form of adult leukemia. Some kinds of CLL will be stable for years and won’t need treatment. But with others, your body isn’t able to create normal blood cells, and you’ll need treatment.
• Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). With this form, you might not have noticeable symptoms. You might not be diagnosed with it until you have a routine blood test. People 65 and older have a higher risk of this type.
The symptoms may include:
• excessive sweating, especially at night (called “night sweats”)
• fatigue and weakness that do not go away with rest
• unintentional weight loss
• bone pain and tenderness
• painless, swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck and armpits)
• enlarged liver or spleen
• red spots on the skin, called petechiae
• bleeding easily and bruising easily
• fever or chills
• frequent infections
Cause & Risk Factors –
No one knows exactly what causes of this problem. People who have it have certain unusual chromosomes, but the chromosomes don’t cause leukemia.
You can’t prevent its occurrence, but certain things may trigger it. You might have a higher risk if you –
• Are exposed to a lot of radiation or certain chemicals
• Had radiation therapy or chemotherapy to treat cancer
• Have a family history of leukemia
• Have a genetic disorder like Down syndrome
Diagnosing generally involves examining cells from the blood and bone marrow. Diagnostic tests for leukemia often include:
• Flow cytometry
• Imaging tests
• Lab tests
Treatment for your leukemia depends on many factors. Your doctor determines your treatment options based on your age and overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether it has spread to other parts of your body, including the central nervous system.
Common treatments used to fight such disease includes:
Chemotherapy is the major form of treatment for leukemia. This drug treatment uses chemicals to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you may receive a single drug or a combination of drugs. These drugs may come in a pill form, or they may be injected directly into a vein.
• Targeted therapy.
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die.
• Radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy beams to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. You may receive radiation in one specific area of your body where there is a collection of leukemia cells, or you may receive radiation over your whole body. Radiation therapy may be used to prepare for a bone marrow transplant.
• Bone marrow transplant.
A bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, helps reestablish healthy stem cells by replacing unhealthy bone marrow with leukemia-free stem cells that will regenerate healthy bone marrow.
Prior to a bone marrow transplant, you receive very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy your leukemia-producing bone marrow. Then you receive an infusion of blood-forming stem cells that help rebuild your bone marrow.
You may receive stem cells from a donor or you may be able to use your own stem cells.
Immunotherapy uses your immune system to fight cancer. Your body’s disease-fighting immune system may not attack your cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that help them hide from the immune system cells. Immunotherapy works by interfering with that process.
• Engineering immune cells to fight leukemia.
A specialized treatment called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy takes your body’s germ-fighting T cells, engineers them to fight cancer and infuses them back into your body. CAR-T cell therapy might be an option for certain types of leukemia.
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