Leukemia (also spelled leukaemia), is a type of cancer of the blood that usually begins in the bone marrow. Leukemia occurs when there is an abnormal increase in under-developed blood cells called 'blasts' or ‘leukemia cells’. This abnormality causes the blood cells to grow and divide chaotically. Normal blood cells die after a while and are replaced by new cells which are produced in the bone marrow. The abnormal blood cells do not die so easily. Instead they start accumulating and begin occupying the space intended for normal blood cells, which increases the chances of infection in the body.
Like all blood cells, Leukemia cells travel through the body. The symptoms of Leukemia depend on the number of Leukemia cells and where these cells collect in the body.
Patients suffering from acute leukemia may encounter symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, sickness, and loss of muscle control or seizure.
Other common symptoms of leukemia include:
Poor Blood clotting: As immature white blood cells crowd out blood platelets (crucial for blood clotting), the patient may bruise or bleed easily and heal slowly. This symptom indicates that the patient is in the early stages of leukemia.
Affected immune system: The patient's white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting off infection, may be suppressed or having difficulty in carrying out their function. The patient may experience frequent infections and in some cases his/her immune system may turn against the very healthy cells that they protect.
Anaemia: As the shortage of good red blood cells grows, the patient may suffer from Anaemia resulting in difficult or laboured respiration (dyspnea) and pallor (paleness in the skin caused by illness).
· Night sweats and tiredness
· Sudden loss of weight
· Frequent infections
· Easy bleeding and bruising
· Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (arising from a swollen spleen or liver)
· Pain in the bones or joints
Stages of Leukemia
Stage 0: In the initial stages, there are too many lymphocytes in the body. The symptoms are rarely visible.
Stage I: The lymph nodes start getting swollen due to too many lymphocytes being made.
Stage II: The swelling spreads to the spleen and liver, again due to excessive presence of lymphocytes.
Stage III: In this stage, the patient may experience anaemia since the lymphocytes are crowding out the red cells in the blood.
Stage IV: In the final stage, very few platelets remain in the blood and the lymph nodes, spleen and liver continue to remain swollen
There are various causes to the different types of leukemia. Some of the common causes associated with leukemia are:
Artificial Ionising Radiation –which can damage living tissue and cause cancer
Viruses - HTLV-1 (human T-lymphotropic virus) which are known to cause t-cell leukemia
Benzene and Petrochemicals –which contain carcinogenic chemical (cancer causing agents)
Treatments for Leukemia include:
Chemotherapy, Radiation treatments, Stem cell transplant