Leukemia

Cancer of the Blood

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is the kind of cancer that creates irregular white blood cells in the marrow of your bones keeping the white blood cells from completing their regular functions including fighting infection. Leukemia is classified into two major types known as Acute Leukemia and Chronic Leukemia.

How to Diagnose

If a patient suspects they might have developed Leukemia, their doctors can complete general examinations/scans and urine or blood tests to look for signs including but not limited to;


  • an abnormal blood count or T-Cell percentage
  • leukemic cells in cerebrospinal fluid (in spine)
  • leukemic cells anywhere in body

For more definitive tests to confirm the diagnosis of leukemia, more specific procedures can be done including a

  • bone marrow biopsy
  • spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • imaging tests (X-Rays, CT scans, MRI's)
  • gallium or bone scans
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Possible Causes

Exact causes of leukemia are still unknown to the medical world (Mayo Clinic Staff, March 26th 2015).

However, like in all cancers, the main cause is the uncontrolled growth of a single cell. In leukemia, this uncontrolled action causes too many unhealthy cells in bone marrow which can result in less healthy

  • white blood cells
  • red blood cells
  • platelets

One rare cause could be exposure to radiation from

  • past medical procedures
  • any kind of exposure to nuclear radiation

However, the chances are unlikely and take a long time period post radiation exposure to develop the cancer.

Treatments

The main approach to control leukemia is to release virus infected cells into the bone marrow or lymph system where the cancer is located to kill the leukemia cells. Procedures commonly used in leukemia patients include

  • chemotherapy
  • interferon therapy
  • radiation therapy
  • stem cell transplantation (SCT)
  • or surgery on the spleen if enlarged

Symptoms and Affects

  • There are many symptoms that those with leukemia experience
  • These symptoms Usually occur in 2 or 3 phases
  • A chronic, accelerated and blast phase
  • As each phase occurs the more severe the symptoms are
  • The chronic phase, the longest lasting and is where the least serious of the symptoms occur
  • The most common symptoms you will come across during this phase includes, constant fatigue, headache, sweating during sleep, and fever
  • The second phase, the accelerated phase is the shortest phase that last from anywhere from a few days, to weeks
  • Symptoms often experienced during this phase are weight loss, aching bones, easy bruising, and nose or gum bleeding
  • The last phase the blast phase, the major and severe symptoms that could possibly lead to death occur
  • These symptoms should all be watched for because if not tended to it could lead to becoming more serious within the patient
  • The symptoms include sticky blood which impacts the amount of blood that get to the organs, bloody urine and constant viruses
Leukemia: What are the symptoms? | Norton Cancer Institute

Prevalence

  • Leukemia is one of the most common cancers
  • In children and teens, leukemia is the diagnosed cancer in 1 out of every 3 cases
  • Leukemia is the most prevalent blood cancer
  • Thugh the percentage of leukemia being the diagnosed cancer for adults is less than children, adults are 10 times more impacted by this disease than children
  • The reason for this being as cells age and die and become weaker, the immune system becomes more vulnerable and makes the adult more susceptible to be diagnosed with leukemia.

Cellular and Molecular Levels

  • The type of leukemia that you are diagnosed with depends on the type of white blood cell that undergoes malignant transformation
  • Malignant transformation is a cell starting to develop cancerous properties
  • The three types of white blood cells include granulocytes, monocytes and lymphocytes
  • White blood cells, that are critical in defense of immune system are impacted greatly which makes the immune system more vulnerable and susceptible to more illness
  • At the molecular level, mutated DNA is thought to be the cause of leukemia.