What is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues including the bone marrow (the soft, sponge-like tissue in the center of most bones that makes blood cells), the lymphatic system and even blood itself. The two main kinds of leukemia are
- Lymphocytic leukemia (also known as lymphoblastic leukemia), when the body makes too many of a certain kind of white blood cells, called lymphocytes.
- Myelogenous leukemia (also known as myeloid or myelocytic leukemia), is when the body makes too many of the other kind of white blood cells, called granulocytes.
Leukemia is the most common type of cancer among children and teens but is also prevalent among adults. Approximately every 3 minutes, a person is diagnosed with Leukemia. This disease can be very dangerous to our health because it will slowly destroy our immune systems and other organs, eventually leading to death.
How does it happen?
Blood has three types of cells: white blood cells that fight infection, red blood cells that carry oxygen, and platelets that help blood to clot. Every day, billions of new blood cells are made in the bone marrow — most of them red cells and billions of white blood cells are made in the lymph nodes. Leukemia occurs when blood cells acquire a genetic mutation in their DNA, causing them to change in their function and proliferate. These leukemia cells can’t fight infection the way normal white blood cells do, which leads to decreased immunity. And because there are so many of them, they start to affect the way your major organs work. Eventually, because of the number of mutated white blood cells that crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, there aren’t enough red blood cells to supply oxygen, enough platelets to clot the blood, or enough normal white blood cells to fight infection.
Scientists haven’t figured out direct causes for Leukemia but have narrowed down some risk factors-
- Previous Cancer Treatment- People who have had chemotherapy and other types of radiation therapy are at higher risk of developing Leukemia
- Being exposed to benzene or large doses of ionizing radiation have caused leukemia in some people.
- Smoking- Tobacco smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals which are linked to acute myeloid leukemia in adults.
- Other Genetic Disorders- Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome or polycythemia vera, are associated with an increased risk of leukemia.
- Family history of leukemia- If members of your family have been diagnosed with leukemia, your risk of the disease may be increased.
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
There are several treatment options for Leukemia but none of them are guaranteed to work completely to cure this disease.
- Chemotherapy– This drug treatment uses chemicals to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of Leukemia you have, you may receive a single drug or a combination of drugs which may come in a pill form, or they may be injected directly into a vein
- Biological Therapy– This works by using treatments that help your immune system recognize and attack leukemia cells
- Radiation Therapy– This form of therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy beams to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth
- Stem cell transplant– A stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace your diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow
While all these treatments may seem promising, they all come with side effects that can also sometimes damage our health and even lead to death. This is why scientists are constantly working on research to figure out alternative cures, especially for children who are more vulnerable to the treatments listed above. Scientists are getting closer and closer to the perfect cure as they continue to create different drugs that are increasingly more and more beneficial.