Leukemia-So much white blood cells!

Normal blood cells vs leukemia
Normal blood cells vs leukemia

You might have heard of the word “leukemia ” or leukaemia once or twice in your lifetime. This post will attempt to clear up facts about the condition.

Imagine you own a farm,there is barley, some pea and vegetables in your farm.

The barley grows up fast big occupying most of the space, leaving the pea and the veggies little or no space,less sunlight and nutrients.

The peas and vegetables look scrawny and unattractive while the barley though grows big but most of them not producing any barley.

The above example explain how leukemia affects your blood cells. The barley is your white blood cells, the pea represents your red blood cells and the veggies represent your platelets

What is leukemia ?

This is a cancer affecting your blood and bone marrow. The bone marrow produces blood cells normally but with leukemia the bone marrow produces mostly more white blood cells than necessary in the blood, thus taking up most of the space in the blood and leaving little space for the red blood cells and platelets .

This extra white blood cells produced by the bone marrow are not usually mature and therefore cannot protect the body against infections,

there are often not enough red blood cells and white blood cells to carry out their functions (movement of oxygen throughout the body and clothing of blood ).

Stastistics show that leukemia affects  more males than females ,affecting children below 15 and adults above 55.

How do you know you have leukemia?

Common symptoms include

  • Bone pain
  • Recurring infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Profuse bleeding due to poor blood clotting
  • Unexplained weight-loss
  • Fever
  • Head aches,seizures(when the CNS is under attack)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Anaemia
  • Tiny red spots on the skin

If you experience any of these sign and symptoms reverently, it may be wise to visit your GP

What causes leukemia?

There is no consensus on what causes leukemia but there are certain risk factors (genetic and environmental) that might increase your chances of being diagnosed with leukemia .

Though am not quite sure you could prevent leukemia ,here is a list of risk factors

Smoking

This alone is responsible for 15 types of cancer in adults,.leukemia included source:cancerresearchuk.org

Smoking =leukemia
Smoking =leukemia

 

Cigarette smoke contains known carcinogens(benzene and some radioactive matter) are absorbed by the lungs spread to the body through the bloodstream.

Heredity

If your family has a history of cancer, then you, my friend are not safe from leukemia. Albeit most occurrences of leukemia are  not through inherited genes.

Genetic Disorders

Disorders like down syndrome -due to genetic mutations at birth cause childhood leukemia. Surprisingly children with down syndrome have a higher survival rate than normal children affected by this illness.

Blood disorders

People with MDS(Myelodysplasia) have an abnormally low blood count, which often time may take a worse turn to leukemia

Exposure to high levels of Radiation

Unlike leukemia by genetic or blood disorder, this causal agent is not biological. Exposure to radiation from the environment and also radiotherapy (cancer treatment) can cause leukemia

Age

The older you get the more your chances of developing Acute Myelodic leukemia

Types of leukemia

  • Factors to consider
  • Speed of metastasis
  • Age
  • Type of blood cell affected

Classification by speed of metastasis

Acute leukemia

Leukemia is acute ,if the cancer cells are very fast. The condition of the patient worsens rapidly. This often requires aggressive treatment  to fight the cancer. This is the converse of chronic – type.

Chronic leukemia

The cancer develops at snail speed and may not be easily noticed during the early stages.

Classification based on type of blood cells affected

Lymphocytic leukemia

This is the form of leukemia that affects the Lymphocytes(backbone of the immune system)

Myelogenous leukemia

This kind of cancer affects the Myeloid cells which develop to form the red blood cells, white blood cells and the platelets.

Most common types of leukemia

Types of Leukemia

Acute Lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)

Lymphocytes(immature white blood cells) without the ability of fighting off infections are rapidly created in the bone marrow. It is most common in children though adults are equally affected

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

This form of blood  cancer  affects the Myeloid cells. The cancer cells develop rapidly and occurs mostly in adults.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

As the name implies the cancerous Lymphocytes grow slowly. It is rare in children and adolescents but most common in adults over the age of 55.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Like CLL Its favourite Victims are adults. It slowly affects the Myeloids(cells that mature to become blood cells)

If you would care to know there are also rare types

  • Juvenile Myelomonocytic leukemia
  • Acute Promyelocytic leukemia
  • Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia
  • Hairy Cell Leukemia

Diagnosis of leukemia

During its  early stages there are little or no obvious signs or symptoms ,However on visiting your physician,here are some step he may take to give proper diagnosis

  • Questions about general medical history
  • Physical Examination to check for any possible signs
  • Blood test to examine the blood for abnormalities
  • Bone marrow biopsy. This involves using a really large syringe to collect bone marrow from the hip then examine for cancer cells or any chromosomal changes

    Bone marrow biopsy
    Bone marrow biopsy
  • MRI and CT scans may be required to determine whether the cancer has spread

What are treatment options for leukemia?

Curing leukemia
Curing leukemia

Thanks to breakthroughs in various treatment methods,there has been an increasing amount of leukemia survivors.
Treatment options depend mostly on factors such as :

  • Age
  • Present Health Status
  • Type of leukemia
  • Stage of cancer (whether it has spread or not)

Common Methods of Treatment

Chemotherapy

This is the most common treatment option. Chemicals(drugs) are used to kill the cancer. Drug combination

The drugs may be administered orally or intravenously and the patient is kept in a sterile private room in order to reduce chances of getting infected by other agents since the immune system usually gets compromised.

Anti biotics are also provided to treat or prevent infections in addition to other medications that take care of the side effects of the treatment.

Side Effects of Chemo includes

  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Head aches
  • Infertility in adults (ovaries and testes are damaged)

Radiotherapy

This method unlike chemo involves the use of high energy radiations to destroy the cancer, thus stopping further growth by targeting a particularly infected area or the whole body.

This method is also a precursor treatment stage of the stem cell transplant

Stem Cell Transplant

This treatment is very risky and quite expensive.
It is the process of replacing unhealthy nine marrow with healthy ones, after destroying most of the unhealthy bone marrow and cancer cells  through radiotherapy.

The new stem cell after at least 2weeks should grow into marrows that would in turn produce healthy blood cells ,if the host body accepts the  stem cells.  The patient also takes  additional  medication to prevent donor stem cell rejection.

Biological or immune therapy

Living organisms, substances (antibodies, cytokines) produced by the living organisms or a synthetic equivalent of the substances are introduced to the body in order to improve the immune system,

In the process enabling the immune system to specifically recognize and destroy cancer cells. It’s side effects include rashes, headaches,tiredness etc.

Targeted therapy

Drugs are used to attack the cancer cells .The cancer cells are usually vulnerable to the drug because of a certain properties (proteins )of the cancer.

ALL and CML may be treated through this method.

Clinical trials

These are studies for the purpose of testing possible treatment that may or may not work.

The patient is at liberty to discuss the  treatment with the doctor to find out if they are eligible for the trial or which trial may be more suitable for the patient.

Coping with Leukemia

It’s usually difficult for patients ,their family ,friends and loved ones find hard to accept a diagnosis.

This in turn makes treatment and management of the disease difficult.

In order for you to increase your survival chance here are the basic steps you must take when you find out  you have this type of cancer

  1. Accept and face the reality -you have cancer
  2. Build a positive mindset to get you through tough times
  3. Gather every possible information about leukemia in order to help you make wise decisions during the course of treatment
  4. Join a support group ,If you’re not a group person you could equally talk to a counsellor.
  5. Adopt a generally healthy stress free lifestyle and diet
  6. Lastly but not the least, keep your friends and family closer and accept their help(emotional or physical)

Typical questions to ask you physician

  1. What kind of leukemia do I have?
  2. Do I need more tests?
  3. What is the stage my illness?
  4. Do I require immediate treatment?
  5. What are my treatment options?
  6. Can the treatment  cure me?
  7. What are the side effects of the possible treatment options?
  8. Which one is best for me?
  9. What is the cost of the treatment?
  10. Does my insurance cover it?

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