Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that occurs in the tissues that form blood in our bodies. These include the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. The disease, which is also known as cancer of the white blood cells, occurs as a result of an uncontrollable increase in the number of the white blood cells, which overcrowd the red blood cells and platelets.
The white blood cells, which are produced by in the bone marrow, play an important role in the body’s immune system, which is to fight off infections and prevent illnesses.
Classifications of Leukemia
There are four main classifications of leukemia and are classified according to how fast the disease progresses. These include:
This is the most common type of leukemia, and it develops when the abnormal blood cells are unable to carry out any functions as a result of them being immature. The multiplication of these immature blood cells progresses very quickly, and as a result requires a fast and aggressive treatment.
This type of leukemia occurs as a result of the production of too many blood cells or too little blood cells. Unlike acute leukemia, the cells produced are more mature with the rate of production is being slower. For a period of time, these cells function normally. The disease progresses slower than in the case of acute leukemia.
Lymphocytic leukemia affects the lymphocytes, which are the lymphoid cells. These cells, which form the lymphatic tissue, play a vital role in the immune system.
This type of leukemia occurs when the bone marrow cells, rather than the blood cells are affected. The bone marrow is responsible for creating the white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Types of Leukemia
The main types of leukemia include:
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL): This is considered the most common type of leukemia among children, although it can also occur in adults. It has the capability to spread to the central nervous system and the lymph nodes.
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML): It is the most common type of leukemia among adults, although it also occurs in children.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): This is another common type of leukemia among adults. Some types of CCL may be stable for years without the need for treatment, while for others the patient may need treatment.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML): Considered to only affect adults, CML may not present any noticeable symptoms at the beginning until it starts progressing very fast.
Causes and Risk Factors of Leukemia
Currently, there is no known cause of leukemia, but there are risk factors that can trigger the disease. These include:
- Exposure to high levels of radiation
- Genetic disorders like Downs Syndrome
- Family history of leukemia
- Certain blood disorders
Symptoms of Leukemia
Since there are different types of leukemia, the symptoms may vary. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Persistent infections
- Fever and chills
- Easy bruising
- Nose bleeding
- Weight loss
- Poor blood clotting
- Persistent fatigue
- Swelling of the lymph nodes
- Petechiae (red spots on the skin)
- Night sweats (excessive)
- Pain in the bones
Diagnosis of Leukemia
If you’re presenting the above symptoms, it is highly recommended that you visit a Hematologist-Oncologist as soon as possible for a diagnosis. To get a definitive diagnosis, the expert will order several tests, which include:
- Physical exam
- Bone marrow biopsy
- Blood cell count
- Blood screening
- Blood enzyme tests
Treatment of Leukemia
The treatment of leukemia is dependent on a number of factors including:
- The type of leukemia
- The stage of the disease
- The rate at which it is progressing
- The overall health and wellbeing of the patient
- If the disease has spread to other areas
Treatment options of leukemia include:
Chemotherapy: This is the main treatment of leukemia and it involves the use of a combination of anti-cancer drugs to destroy the leukemia cells.
Radiation Therapy: This form of treatment uses powerful X-ray energy to destroy the leukemia cells, and to stop them from growing.
Targeted Therapy: This is a form of treatment that targets and slows down or stops the growth of the cancerous cells.
Bone Marrow Transplant: Also known as stem cell transplant, a bone marrow transplant replaces the abnormal bone marrow cells with healthy ones to regenerate healthy non-cancerous blood cells. This mode of treatment is done after destroying the leukemia cells through chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service. From initial consultation through to final diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors and nurses, and technologists led by Dr Hassan Ghazal – an American triple board-certified Consultant Medical Oncologist and a Consultant Clinical Hematologist with more than 3 decades of clinical experience, are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you may have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.
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