Leukemia - Definition
Leukemia is cancer of the blood-forming tissues of the body. These tissues include the lymphatic system and the bone marrow.
There are many different types of leukemia. Some types occur more frequently in children, while other forms are more common in adults.
Most types of leukemia originate in the white blood cells. These blood cells are the ones that fight infection. White blood cells normally multiply and divide when the body needs them. People who have leukemia have abnormal white blood cells, produced by the bone marrow. These white blood cells don't work the right way.
The way leukemia is treated depends on many factors, including the type of leukemia that has been diagnosed. Treating leukemia can involve complex strategies but there are many resources available to make treatment successful.
- Someone is diagnosed with some type of blood cancer every four minutes and in the United States, over 176,000 new patients are expected to be diagnosed this year.
- The number of Americans who currently are living with leukemia is greater than 310,000.
- Approximately 55,000 people will die due to leukemia this year.
- Leukemia is the most common cause of death due to cancer among young adults and children; but, leukemia occurs much more frequently in adults than in children.
- Each day in the United States, 143 people are diagnosed with leukemia and 66 dies of the disease.
- Leukemia occurs in men and women and in all races.
- The five-year relative survival rate for leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is about 8% higher for Caucasians than that of African-Americans.
- Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in Hispanic adolescents and children. The five-year relative survival rate is slightly higher for non-Hispanic whites than that of Hispanics.
What Causes Leukemia?
The exact of what causes leukemia are not completely understood. The disease appears to develop because of certain environmental factors and genetic characteristics that occur together.
How Leukemia Forms
The DNA of cells contains codes that tell the cells how to function. Scientists think that leukemia occurs when part of the blood cell's DNA is changed. It could be that there are other cells that also contribute to the development of leukemia that is not yet understood.
Changes that are abnormal reasons for what causes leukemia are rapid division and multiplication in cells that would otherwise die. The mutated cells do away with normal blood cells in bone marrow. This leaves fewer numbers of healthy blood cells, and the symptoms of leukemia begin to appear.
How leukemia is classified
Leukemia is classified according to how fast it progresses and what type of cells are involved in the disease.
Depending on how fast leukemia progresses, it is classified as either acute or chronic.
- Acute leukemia: In this type of leukemia, the abnormal cells in the blood are not fully mature. They are known as "blasts." Because they are immature, they can't function properly and they divide and multiply very quickly. This type of leukemia progresses quickly so it requires immediate and aggressive treatment.
- Chronic leukemia: In this type of leukemia, the blood cells involved are more mature. They multiply at a slower rate and they can also function more normally for a longer period. Some types of chronic leukemia do not produce symptoms early in the disease and are not diagnosed for several years.
Depending on what kind of white blood cell (WBC) is affected, leukemia can be classified as lymphocytic or myelogenous.
- Lymphocytic leukemia: In this type of leukemia, the lymphocytes are affected. These are the cells that form tissue that makes up the body's immune system.
- Myelogenous leukemia: In this type of leukemia, the myeloid cells are affected. These cells assist in the production of white blood cells, red blood cells, and cells that produce platelets.
Types of leukemia
The major types of leukemia are:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL): This type of leukemia can occur in adults or children. It frequently occurs mostly in children.
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML): This is the most common kind of acute leukemia in adults, but it can also occur in children.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): This is the most commonly occurring type of chronic leukemia in adults. Many people have this disease for years before requiring treatment.
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML): This affects mainly adults. This type of leukemia may progress slowly for several months or years before starting to progress more rapidly.
There are other types of leukemia that are less common. These include myelodysplastic syndrome, hairy cell leukemia, and myeloproliferative disorders.
There are factors that researchers believe may increase the risk of developing certain types of leukemia. They include:
- Previous treatment for cancer: Some types of radiation therapy and chemotherapy for other cancers can increase the risk for the development of leukemia.
- Genetic disorders: Some genetic syndromes, such as Down's syndrome appear to increase the risk of leukemia.
- Certain blood abnormalities: Having other specific types of blood disorders, like myelodysplastic syndromes, may increase a person's chances of developing leukemia.
- High levels of radiation: Being exposed to radiation at high levels. For example, the survivors of a nuclear reactor incident are at increased risk for the disease.
- Chemical exposure: Being exposed to chemicals like benzene has been associated with an increased risk of some types of leukemia.
- Smoking: Being a cigarette smoker increases the risk of a certain kind of leukemia.
- Family history: A person who has a family member with leukemia may be at increased risk for the disease.
However, many people who develop leukemia don't have any of these risk factors, and most people who have risk factors don't develop the disease.
Leukemia Signs and Symptoms
Plenty of individuals don't regularly encounter leukemia signs or symptoms in the beginning periods of leukemia, and others just develop gradually. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) advance considerably quicker and side effects may decrease more rapidly than with chronic leukemia.
Some leukemia signs and symptoms, including night sweats, fever, fatigue, weakness, and achiness, regularly look like influenza symptoms. The chance that you have this season's flu virus, leukemia signs will probably die down as you show signs of improvement. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if your leukemia signs continue longer than expected.
Depending on the type of leukemia signs and symptoms of the disease can vary. Some of the common leukemia signs include:
- Persistent weakness or fatigue
- Fever or chills
- Severe or frequent infections
- Unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of leukemia
- Enlarged spleen or liver
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Easy bruising or bleeding is sometimes a symptom of leukemia
- Tiny red dots or spots on the skin (petechiae)
- Night sweats, excessive perspiration during the day
- Pain or tenderness in bones can be a symptom of leukemia
Since a few conditions happen with the presence of leukemia, here are some of the leukemia signs that may show up:
- Anemia: Anemia happens when your red blood cells are low. Red blood cells bear oxygen the body needs. This condition may add to fatigue, weakness or shortness of breath.
- Leukopenia: Leukopenia happens when your white blood cells are low. A decline in the production of useful leukocytes (white blood cells) weakens the body's immune system, which can make you more inclined to leukemia signs.
- Thrombocytopenia: Thrombocytopenia happens when you have a low blood platelet count. Platelets are the blood cell which is in charge of thickening of the blood. A lack of platelets may prompt simple injuries or death.
- Swollen lymph nodes: Now and again, the indications of leukemia may incorporate noticeable swelling of the neck, armpit, and crotch. This happens when leukemia has spread to the lymph nodes.
- Expanded liver or spleen: The development of strange platelets in the liver or spleen may cause a bloated feeling (loss of hunger) or swelling in the upper left half of the abdomen.
When to see your doctor
Leukemia signs and symptoms are usually nonspecific and vague. They are easy to overlook because they often mimic symptoms of other common conditions such as the flu. Only occasionally, leukemia is discovered during a blood test for some other illness.
If you have any signs of illness that are persistent or leukemia signs that are worrisome or bother you, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Occasionally, chronic leukemia is discovered during routine blood testing, before a person has noticed any leukemia signs. In order to diagnose leukemia, the following tests may be recommended:
- Physical exam: During a physical examination, the physician will look for leukemia signs. These signs may include swelling in the spleen or the liver or enlargement of the lymph nodes, or signs of anemia, such as a pale skin color.
- Blood tests: Abnormal levels of certain blood components, such as platelets or white blood cells, can be a sign of leukemia. A blood test can provide this information.
- Bone marrow test: The bone marrow contains certain cells that can help in diagnosing leukemia signs. A sample of bone marrow for biopsy is often taken from the bone of the hip by aspirating it into a syringe using a needle. A biopsy can help the doctors recommend what treatments might be best.
Other tests might be recommended to help confirm a diagnosis of leukemia and help determine its progression. Certain kinds of the disease are classified according to stages, based on their severity. Knowing the stage of leukemia is helpful in determining the best treatment options.
A careful and exact diagnosis is the initial phase of building up a leukemia treatment plan. Your incorporated group of leukemia specialists will use advanced tests and instruments to assess the disease and plan your individualized treatment. All throughout your treatment, the specialist will use imaging and clinical tests to track the extent of the tumors, screen your reaction to treatment, and change your treatment plan when required.
1. Physical exam and health history
In the initial two days of your stay at the hospital, you will complete a set of analytic tests and completely survey your medicinal records and health history. Your specialist will likewise direct you to get a physical exam to check for indications of bruising, pale skin, swollen lymph nodes or an expanded spleen.
2. Lesser waiting time for test results
Specialists understand that sitting tight for test results can cause a lot of stress. To ease discomfort and enable you to start your leukemia treatment sooner, your doctor will find a way to lessen your waiting time for test results.
3. Comfortable equipment
Your doctor would also want you to feel comfortable during diagnostic tests, which is why hospitals provide comfortable and padded testing equipment. These will help you feel relaxed during diagnostic procedures.
Treatment for Leukemia
The treatment for leukemia depends on many factors including the patient's age and general health status, what type of leukemia has been diagnosed and whether or not it has spread and involves other parts of the body. The physician recommends treatment for leukemia options based on these factors and on the patient's wishes.
Treatment for leukemia normally includes:
- Chemotherapy: This is drug therapy that uses chemicals to destroy the abnormal leukemia cells. It is the primary form of treatment for leukemia. The drugs are sometimes injected into the veins (IV), or they may be given in the form of a pill. Depending on the type of leukemia, one drug or a combination of different drugs may be used.
- Biological therapy: This form of treatment for leukemia works by stimulating the body's own immunity to recognize the abnormal leukemia cells and destroy them.
- Targeted therapy: This therapy uses chemicals that attack certain vulnerable aspects of the leukemia cells. One example of targeted therapy is the medication imatinib. It can help stop the progression of chronic myelogenous leukemia by inhibiting the action of a specific protein within the abnormal leukemia cells.
- Radiation therapy: This uses high-energy or X-ray beams to destroy the leukemia cells and prevent them from multiplying. The patient usually lies on a table during radiation treatment for leukemia and the beams are directed at specific points on the body.
- Stem cell transplant: In this procedure, diseased bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow. Before this procedure, chemotherapy or radiation is used to destroy the bone marrow that is diseased. An infusion is then administered to help rebuild healthy bone marrow.
- Stem cells are sometimes obtained from a donor, or sometimes the patient's own stem cells are used. A bone marrow transplant is very similar to a stem cell transplant.
There is no known approach to avoid most kinds of leukemia.
A few types of leukemia might be averted by maintaining a strategic distance from high measurements of radiation, and to products with benzene, smoking and other tobacco users, or certain sorts of chemotherapy used to treat different kinds of tumor.
Home Treatment for Leukemia Symptoms
You can get things done at home to help deal with your reactions. In the event that your specialist has given you guidelines or prescriptions to treat these symptoms, make certain to monitor them. All in all, good habits like eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough rest and exercise may help control your side effects.
Home treatment for queasiness or vomiting includes looking for and treating early indications of dehydration, for example, a dry mouth or feeling unsteady when you stand up. Eating small amounts during meal times. A few ginger sweets or ginger tea can help as well.
Home treatment for constipation includes constant exercise alongside drinking enough liquids and eating a meal plan that is high in organic products, vegetables, and fiber. Check with your specialist before you utilize a diuretic for your constipation.
Home treatment for diarrhea includes resting your stomach and being ready for indications of dehydration. Check with your specialist before you use any nonprescription solutions for your diarrhea.
Different issues that can be dealt with at home include:
Rest and sleeping issues. On the off chance that you experience difficulty sleeping, going to bed at a standard time, exercising day by day, and maintaining an active lifestyle are a few things that can offer assistance.
Feeling extremely worn out. In the event that you need strength and energy or wind up noticeably weak without doing much, try managing your energy every day wisely and get additional rest.
Hair Loss. For hair loss, you can try using a mild shampoo and a soft hairbrush.
Pain. There are home treatments that can help you manage pain.
Being diagnosed with leukemia or learning that your child has the disease can be overwhelming. In time, you will find ways to deal with the uncertainty and distress you feel. Until then, it may help to:
- Learn about leukemia so you can make decisions about your care: Ask your physician any questions you have about the disease, including treatment for leukemia options. Sometimes, the more information you have, the easier it becomes to make choices.
- Keep friends and family close: Maintaining relationships with people who care about you and with those you love can help you cope with leukemia. Family and friends can provide practical support by helping out at home when you have to be away. They can provide the emotional support you need, too, when you feel frightened and alone.
- Find someone to talk with: Find someone to listen and who will allow you to talk about your fears and concerns. This might be a family member or a close friend. It may be helpful to talk to a member of the clergy, a counselor or a social worker. A support group for people with leukemia or for families of children with leukemia may also be helpful.
Ask your health care provider about support groups near you or look online.