Most people think of leukemia as predominantly a condition seen among children, but it is something that adults usually have. It is more common in men compared to women, and more in whites compared to African-Americans. Families with loved ones inflicted with leukemia should have enough knowledge of what it is and how it affects the lives of their loved ones.
There is nothing much one can do to prevent leukemia. It is a cancer of the blood cells as a result of an increase in the number of white blood cells in the body. They overwhelm and outnumber the healthy platelets and red blood cells, which doesn’t do the body any good. This consequently leads to bigger and more complicated problems.
Genesis Of Leukemia
There are three types of blood cells; red carry oxygen, white fight against infection, and the platelets that the body depends for blood clotting.
Every day, new blood cells are being formed inside the bone marrow, and the dominant type is naturally the red blood cells. However, in the presence of leukemia, the red cells are so much fewer than the white.
The lymphoid and the myeloid cells are the two primary white blood cell types, and leukemia can occur in either of these types. These myeloid and lymphoid cells are not strong enough to fight infection compared to the normal WBCs. Thus, when they crowd the body, they affect the function of some or all of its major organs.
In the long term, there won’t be enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, not enough platelets for normal blood clotting, and no sufficient white blood cells to defend the body from infection. The initial effects seen from these abnormalities include bruising, anemia, and bleeding.
Types of Leukemia
There are two ways in which leukemia is classified:
- The type of blood cells involved (myeloid or lymphoid)
- The speed of onset and development
After classified in either of these two ways, they are then identified into acute or chronic leukemia. Acute leukemia occurs when a majority of the abnormal blood cells continue as immature cells and could not perform normally. Chronic leukemia, on the other hand, occurs when both immature and normal cells are present, and the normal cells are functioning well. Leukemia develops slowly when it gets bad.
Causes Of Leukemia
The exact cause of leukemia is unknown. Individuals who have leukemia were also found to have abnormal chromosomes, but then these chromosomes were not the cause of leukemia.
As mentioned earlier, leukemia can’t be prevented, but there are environmental factors that could cause its development. For instance, smokers are more prone to having the condition, perhaps because they have a lowered immune system. Also, some people may have been exposed to too much radiation and other specific chemicals. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatments may cause leukemia.
Another risk factor to be considered is family history. If one of the identical twins has leukemia, there is a 20% possibility for the other twin to get leukemia within the same year.
Treatments For Leukemia
The treatment plan for leukemia will depend on the kind of leukemia that you diagnosed with, the size of the metastasis, and the patient’s health. However, the primary options include:
- It is a widely used treatment for cancers. It pertains to certain drugs that counteract the growth and spread of the cancer cells. These drugs may be injected into a muscle or a vein, as a pill, or into the spinal cord to kill the cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy utilizes beams of extreme energy to eliminate cancer cells. It usually uses x-rays, but other times protons are used.
- Stem cell transplant. Also called a bone marrow transplant, it is done by replacing the cancer cells with healthy cells. Doctors believe that all immune cells and blood cells (RBC, WBC, and platelets) originate from stem cells that can be found in the cord and peripheral blood and the marrow.
- Immune therapy. As the name implies, immunotherapy helps one’s immune system to defend and attack cancer cells. Drugs like interferon and interleukins are used in this method to boost the body’s immune system.
- The process involves the removal of an organ in the body that is already infected with cancer. For example, the surgeon can remove your kidney or spleen if cancer has spread over these organs.
Follow-up Care For Leukemia
Individuals diagnosed with acute leukemia should be monitored closely, with regular checks on their blood cell counts after therapy. Those who have had a remission lasting for five years are considered cancer-free. For chronic leukemia, doctors recommend frequent monitoring of their blood counts for years, whether they are being treated or not.
Survival in cancer, in this case, leukemia, is one of the most focused cancers in Oncology care. There are more than 15 million cancer survivors in America. Patients must be encouraged to transition from active treatment towards survivorship. This can be the first step to educating the patients about how to live life after leukemia and helping them communicate competently with their healthcare providers.