Leukemia is a cancer in the blood-forming cells found in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is responsible for generating red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets, each of which has different important functions. Cancerous bone marrow cells develop abnormal blood cells that do not function properly. Usually, leukemia results to over production of abnormal white blood cells that crowd out the normal blood cells resulting to the disruption of their function.
Types of leukemia
Blood cell generation starts from stem cells in the bone marrow, which develop further to form either myeloid stem cells (young red and white blood cells and platelets) or lymphoid stem cells (young white blood cells). The four types of leukemia depend on what type of young blood cells develops abnormalities and the type of progress of the disease (chronic or acute).
The four types of leukemia are the following:
Causes of leukemia
There is still a lot to be discovered about the root cause of leukemia, but some risk factors are identified. Prolonged exposure to benzene, formaldehyde, high radiation such as in atomic bomb explosion and radiation therapy, and smoking is said to cause leukemia. People who underwent chemotherapy and those with Down syndrome, myelodyplastic syndrome and other blood disorders are also prone to develop leukemia.
Symptoms of leukemia
Different types of leukemia manifest different symptoms. However, all four types seem to cause unexplained on and off fever, susceptibility to infection, night sweats, extreme fatigue, weight loss, and bleeding and bruising. The accumulation of leukemic blood cells in different organs causes organs to swell or fail. The neck, underarms, groin, abdomen, and the testes could also swell because of the accumulated leukemic blood cells.
Treatment of leukemia
A popular leukemia treatment is stem cell transplant. The stem cells or the precursors of blood cells from a healthy donor or from the patient itself are added to the patient's body. The next common leukemia treatment is bone marrow transplant. In this treatment, the cancerous bone marrow cells are destroyed first by aggressive chemo and radiation therapy. The destroyed cancerous bone marrows are then replaced by healthy ones from a donor or from the patient's own bone marrow. Depending on the type of leukemia, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, biological therapy, kinase inhibitors, and drug therapy can also be used as treatment.
Coping with leukemia
People diagnose with leukemia or families with love ones with leukemia are advised to get support groups to learn how others cope with the cancer. It is normal to feel depress, anxious, or angry after a leukemia diagnosis, and a support group can help patients or love ones of patients rationalize the diagnosis. The numbers to dial in the U.S.A. are 800-ACS-2345 for the American Cancer Society and 800-4-CANCER for the National Cancer Institute, Cancer Information Service.