The term “leukaemia” refers to malignancies of the blood cells. Leukaemia develops in blood-forming tissues, such as the bone marrow, and spreads from there.
The cells that mature into white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are made in the bone marrow. Each cell has a distinct function:
- White blood cells (WBCs) aid in the fight against infection in the body.
- The oxygen-carrying red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen from the lungs to tissues and organs.
- Platelets aid in the forming clots that stop bleeding.
When a patient has leukaemia, their bone marrow produces a huge number of leukemic cells which commonly affects the WBCs. These abnormal cells accumulate in your blood and bone marrow. They crowd out healthy blood cells, making it difficult for your cells and blood to carry out their functions.
Types of leukaemia
There are diﬀerent types of leukaemia. The type of leukaemia patients have is determined by the type of blood cell that turns cancerous and how rapidly or slowly it grows.
It’s possible that the type of blood cell is:
- Lymphocytes are a type of WBC that helps the body fight infection.
- Immature cells known as myeloid cells develop into WBCs, RBCs, or platelets
The following types of cancers can grow swiftly or slowly:
- Acute leukaemia is rapidly spreading and worsens quickly if left untreated.
- Chronic leukaemia progresses slowly and it usually worsens over a long period of time
- Acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) is the most frequent type of cancer in children and can affect adults as well.
- Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a type of leukaemia that is more common in older people but can also strike children.
- A common type of leukaemia in adults is chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) which usually happens during or after middle age.
- CML (chronic myeloid leukaemia) is a type of leukaemia that develops in humans at or after middle age.
All kinds of leukaemia have no single recognised aetiology. Only a few are attributed to some known causes and are normally factors that are out of the control of the average person. The causes of diﬀerent leukaemias are likely to be diverse.
Leukaemia, like other malignancies, occurs due to DNA abnormalities. By activating oncogenes or deactivating tumour suppressor genes, some mutations cause leukaemia by altering the regulation of cell death, diﬀerentiation, and proliferation. These mutations are spontaneous or are due to radiation or carcinogenic chemicals exposure. The cause of these mutations are still unknown.
There are a variety of factors that might increase your chances of getting a certain kind. Overall, your risk of developing leukaemia increases as you become older. It is particularly frequent in those over the age of 60.
The following are some of the symptoms of leukaemia:
- Petechiae or little red spots that form beneath the surface of the skin caused by bleeding.
- Fever or night sweats.
- Frequent bruising or bleeding.
- Loss of appetite or weight loss.
- Overtired, low energy and a strong urge to sleep prevent you from doing your typical daily tasks.
Other leukaemia symptoms vary depending on the kind. Initially, chronic leukaemia may not have any symptoms.
Healthcare workers use a variety of diagnostic methods for leukemia, including:
- Relevant history of the patient
- A complete blood count
- A physical examination
- Bone marrow examinations: Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy are the two most common procedures. Both tests extract a sample of bone marrow and bone which are then sent to a lab for testing
- Gene and chromosomal alterations are investigated using genetic assays.
Additional testing to detect metastasis include imaging and a lumbar puncture (a process for collecting and testing cerebrospinal ﬂuid). Despite using these methods to determine the disease, it is hard to identify leukaemia as many of the symptoms are vague, non-specific, and can refer to other illnesses.
Treatment for leukaemia is determined by the type of leukaemia, the severity, age and general health of the patient. Some treatments include:
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy in combination with a stem cell transplant
- Targeted treatment involves the use of medications or other chemicals that target specific cancer cells while causing little damage to healthy cells.