September is Leukemia Awareness Month. Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood cells and tissues that produce blood cells such as the bone marrow.
What is leukemia?
Leukemia occurs due to the high number of white blood cells in the body, where the white blood cells crowd out the red blood cells and platelets that the body produces to be healthy, which leads to a malfunction in the excess white blood cells.
Symptoms of leukemia
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Severe or frequent infections
- Pain in your bones or joints
- Swollen lymph nodes or organs such as the spleen
Types of leukemia
Acute leukemia: It is characterized by rapidly growing and life-threatening diseases.
The most common types of acute leukemia are:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Chronic leukemia: It develops slowly and gets progressively worse, and symptoms may take a long time before they appear.
Types of Chronic Leukemia:
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
There is another type called Hairy Cell Leukemia, which is uncommon and is named for its appearance under the microscope. This type of leukemia mostly affects the elderly, and men more than women, and its most common symptoms include weakness and fatigue due to anemia.
Factors that increase the chances of developing leukemia:
- Exposure to high levels of radiation.
- Exposure to benzene (used in the chemical industries, and in cigarette smoke).
- Certain types of chemotherapy drugs such as (Etoposide) and drugs are known as (Alkylating Agents).
- Myelodysplastic Syndrome and other types of blood disorders.
Symptoms of leukemia:
- Feeling tired and unwell.
- Losing a lot of weight for no reason.
- Loss of appetite or feeling full after eating little food.
- Ease of bleeding and bruising.
- Unexplained fever or night sweats.
- Swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck and under the armpits).
- Abdominal bloating and discomfort.
- Swelling and bleeding in the gums.
How is leukemia diagnosed:
- Blood tests: Complete blood count (CBC), kidney function test, liver function test, uric acid level test. Examination of the blood smear under the microscope is necessary to look for any cancer cells.
- A bone marrow biopsy is the most common test to determine the type of leukemia.
- Lumbar puncture (Spinal tap) to look for cancer cells in the spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid), which is the fluid that fills the spaces in and around the brain and spinal cord.
- Cytogenic Analysis: A laboratory looks at chromosomes in cells from samples of blood, bone marrow, or lymph nodes to determine if there are any genetic problems. For example, people with CML have an abnormal chromosome called the Philadelphia chromosome.
- Molecular diagnosis (PCR and FISH assays). The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay can detect traces of cancer cells in the body, while the fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) assay detects any chromosomal defects in the cell's DNA.
Unlike other types of cancer, leukemia does not consist of a solid mass of tissue that a doctor can remove with surgery, so the treatment of leukemia is very complicated.
The complexity depends on basic factors: age, health status, type of leukemia, and spread to other parts of the body.
Here are the methods used to fight leukemia, including:
- Kinase inhibitors.
- Radiation therapy.
- Bone Marrow Transplantation.
- Stem Cells Transplantation.