Leukaemia is a type of cancer that forms in the blood. Bone marrow is where blood cells are formed. The disease is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of blood cells, usually white blood cells in the bone marrow. Leukaemia cells crowd out and replace normal blood and marrow cells.
Types of Leukaemia
There are different types of leukaemia and it is important to identify each as treatment and prognosis differ widely. The 2 main types are:
- Acute leukaemia – consists of immature cells that reproduce rapidly
- Chronic leukaemia – made up of mature cells which reproduce slowly
What causes Leukaemia
There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk of getting leukaemia. For example,
- Exposure to radiation
- Previous exposure to chemotherapy drugs
- Exposure to certain chemicals eg. Benzene
- Genetic disposition in patients with Down’s syndrome
The symptoms of leukaemia generally depend on the type of leukaemia, how quickly it grows and at what stage the disease is diagnosed. Many of the symptoms of leukaemia don’t become apparent until a large number of normal blood cells are crowded out by abnormal cancer cells.
Possible complications of leukaemia inclusive of:
- Serious infections
- Severe bleeding (hemorrhage)
- Thickened blood from large numbers of leukaemia cells
Possible long-term complications from leukaemia or the treatment can include:
- Heart and lung problems
- Problems with the ability to have children in the future
- Bone problems such as thinning of bones (osteoporosis)
If an individual has any of the above symptoms, a full examination is recommended.
- Blood tests. By looking at a sample of your blood, a doctor can determine if you have abnormal levels of red or white blood cells or platelets — which may suggest leukaemia
- Bone marrow test. A doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of bone marrow from your hipbone. The bone marrow is removed using a long, thin needle. The sample is sent to a laboratory to look for leukaemia cells. Specialised tests of your leukaemia cells may reveal certain characteristics that are used to determine your treatment options.
Treatment method depends on the type of leukaemia and can be treated with any treatment method below:
- Chemotherapy is the major form of treatment for leukaemia. This drug treatment uses chemicals to kill leukaemia cells
- Targeted therapy uses drugs that attack specific vulnerabilities within your cancer cells
- Stem cell transplant