What is Leukaemea?

Leukaemia is cancer of the blood or bone marrow characterized by an abnormal proliferation of blood cells, usually white blood cells ( leukocytes ). These cells can get into the blood stream and circulate around the body. They do not work normally and so do not give you the protection from infection that they should.

Because there are far too many of these abnormal white blood cells, they can build up in the lymph nodes, bone marrow and spleen and cause swelling. They can also affect the liver and the brain and spinal cord.

The causes are not yet fully known, and a cure is by no means certain.  Despite huge medical advances, leukaemia remains the most devastating childhood disease in the UK.

What are the causes of Leukaemia?

The causes of Leukaemia are not yet fully known, but the risk factors that increase the chance of developing the disease include-

  • A weakened immune system – this may be a result of drugs that suppress the immune system (such as those used for organ transplants), high doses of radiation (such as in radiotherapy for another cancer), or diseases that affect the immune system (such as HIV).
  • Age – chronic leukaemias are more common over the age of 40.
  • Smoking.
  • Certain genetic conditions, such as Down’s syndrome.
  • Previous chemotherapy for another cancer .
  • Other blood disorders, such as aplastic anaemia, a rare condition where the bone marrow fails to produce blood cells correctly.
  • Contact with a chemical called benzene, one of the chemicals in petrol and a solvent used in the rubber and plastics industry.

What are the symptoms of Leukaemia?

Some of the most common symptoms of Leukaemia are-

  • Unnatural pale complexion.
  • Pain in the joints or bones.
  • Bruising and bleeding, especially from the nose and gums.
  • Fever, chills and other flu like symptoms.
  • Night sweats.
  • Weakness and fatigue .
  • Breathlessness.
  • Enlarged lymph glands .
  • Repeat infections e.g. sore throats .
  • Weight loss.
  • Enlarged liver , and spleen , which may cause abdominal discomfort
  • Loss of appetite.

What treatment can be done for Leukaemia?

Treatment for leukemia is complex. It varies with the type of leukemia, and it is not the same for all patients. The treatment depends not only on the type of leukemia, but also on certain features of the leukemia cells, the extent of the disease, and whether the leukemia has been treated before. It also depends on the patient’s age, symptoms and general health. The doctor plans the treatment to fit each patient’s needs. Whenever possible, patients should be treated at a medical center that has doctors who have experience in treating leukemia.

Other treatments include-

  • Bone marrow transplant from a matched donor.
  • Chemotherapy for months or occasionally up to a year.
  • Intravenous feeding for people who cannot eat, swallow, or digest food.
  • Radiation therapy of the brain and spine to kill even tiny, hidden leukemia cells.
  • Surgery to implant a tube into a major vein to deliver medicine or gain quick access to the bloodstream.