Leukemia is a condition that is marked by the malignant transformation of blood cells. The exact cause of this condition is not fully known. It can be differentiated into various stages by how quickly the disease progresses and the type of cells that are involved. There are four types of leukemia including chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myelocytic leukemia, and acute myelocytic leukemia. Individuals with leukemia are significantly at an increased risk to develop bleeding disorders, anemia and the like. The treatment plan of leukemia is usually maintained by the physicians according to the extent of disease, type of leukemia, age and health status of patient and prior history of treatments.
Know the Risk Factors of Leukemia
Knowing leukemia causes and risk factors is the precondition of the prevention of leukemia. The exact cause of leukemia is not known, but it is presumed to originate from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Following are some of the risk factors that increase the risk of developing any type of leukemia:
- Age: People older than the age of 60 has a higher rate of leukemia.
- Exposure to excessive radiation: Exposure to high levels of radiation. For example, survivors of nuclear reactor accident are at a high risk of having any type of leukemia.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: Excessive exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene which is found in gasoline also has the tendency to cause leukemia.
- Disease related risk factors: Any genetic abnormality such as Downs syndrome or certain blood disorders such as myelodysplastic syndromes increases the risk of leukemia. It is also observed that people who have had chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancers are more prone to develop leukemia because of the suppressed immune system.
- Lifestyle and genetics: Excessive use of cigarette and presence of family history of leukemia increases the risk of leukemia.
Prevention of Leukemia
Prevention of leukemia is not so easy because we still don't know it exact cause and some of its risk factors cannot be avoided, like age. Not easy doesn't mean impossible. The following is the ways that may prevent leukemia:
1. Quit Smoking: Most of the risk factors in leukemia cannot be avoided like radiation for treating other types of cancers. However if you are an active smoker or even take cigarette occasionally then it’s the time to quit smoking.
2. Limit Benzene Exposure: Benzene is a byproduct of coal and petroleum that is generally used in gasoline. Several other things such as paints, plastics, pesticides and solvents also contain benzene. By reducing the exposure to benzene you can prevent yourself from having leukemia.
3. Reduce Radiation Exposure: Avoiding excess exposure to radiation saves you from having any type of leukemia.
How Do I Know If I Have Leukemia？
The characterized symptoms of leukemia vary according to its types; the common symptoms are as following:
- Weakness, persistent fatigue;
- High grade fever and chills;
- Hepatomegaly or splenomegaly;
- Swollen lymph nodes;
- Bruising and bleeding;
- Appearance of tin red spots over the skin (called as petechial rash);
- Tenderness and bone pain;
- Increases sweating at night;
- Generalized weight loss;
Note: Consult your doctor if you are having above symptoms or any other symptoms that worry you. Most of the times, leukemia is diagnosed through blood tests that are intended to be done for some other reasons.
Diagnosis of Leukemia
Chronic leukemia can be diagnosed from regular blood tests. If you are developing signs and symptoms of leukemia, you may undergo following exams.
- Physical exam: In physical exam the doctor looks for the physical signs and symptoms of leukemia such as pale skin, swelling in liver, spleen and lymph nodes.
- Blood test: By determining the abnormal levels of white blood cells and platelets the doctor will diagnose that leukemia is present or not.
- Bone marrow test: In this test a sample of bone marrow is removed from our hip bone, it is hen sent to the pathological laboratory for the analysis of leukemia cells. This test helps in making a treatment plan for the disease.
Medical Treatments for Leukemia
If measures of prevention of leukemia have failed, we should take steps to get rid of it and enjoy our life. Here are some popular therapeutic options for treating leukemia:
1. Watchful Waiting
In most cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia the symptoms don’t appear until a long time. So people may delay the treatments to avoid its side effects until symptoms appear. If your doctor suggests you for watchful waiting, going for regular checkups becomes necessary. This method avoids or delays the side effects of cancer treatment but exposes you to certain risks, such as reduces the chance of controlling the spread or complications caused by leukemia before it get worse. Some people prefer to take positive steps and reject to choose watchful waiting because they want to treat their leukemia right away.
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for leukemia. The medicines that are used in chemotherapy kill the cancer cells. According to type of cancer, a number of medications are prescribed which are taken in different ways, such as mouth, intravenous administration, through a central or peripheral catheter and via spinal tap or cerebrospinal fluid.
3. Targeted Therapy
Imatinib was the first medicine used as targeted therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. These agents are utilized for blocking the growth of leukemia cells. Its side effects include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, muscle cramps etc.
4. Biological Therapy
In this therapy the immune system of the person is boosted by agents so that he will have a greater tendency to fight against the diseases. Some of the examples of biological therapy include Interferon (for chronic myeloid leukemia) and monoclonal antibodies.
5. Radiation Therapy
Radiotherapy utilizes high energy waves to kill the abnormal cells. Proper resting is considered as an important parameter in this treatment because you may get tired during treatment. Besides, several other side effects include vomiting, nausea and gastric upset.
Here is a video that tells us the use of transplantation for leukemia treatment: