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Diseases & Conditions

Leukaemia

LeukaemiaCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Leukaemia?

The cancer of 'blood cells’ is called leukaemia. This happens when the bone marrow starts producing blood cells that are abnormal. These cells grow at a very fast rate, outnumbering the other normal blood cells like red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Causes of Leukaemia

Common Causes of Leukaemia are:

  • It is more common among smokers.
  • Drugs that were used to treat certain cancers and chemotherapy used previously for treating another cancer.
  • Chronic leukaemias occur more often in people over the age of 40.
  • Aplastic anaemia, which is a rare blood disorder wherein the bone marrow fails to produce blood cells correctly
  • Down's syndrome and certain other similar genetic conditions.

Medications for Leukaemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is usually treated with Chlorambucil (alkylating agent) and fludarabine (antimetabolite). Also fludarabine as well as Purine analogues have proven to be very useful in its treatment. A significant number of patients have experienced remission after using fludarabine. Upon exposure it has appeared to induce apoptosis in lymphocytes that are malignant. Used in a combination with cyclophosphamide (FC) it has shown better results than when used alone. Its combination with alemtuzumab and rituximab is expected to be more effective. Alemtuzumab importance in the eradication of MRD is also being researched.

Prevention of Leukaemia

Although there is no tried and tested way to prevent most leukaemias, some types of blood cancers may be prevented by taking the following steps:

  • Avoiding exposure to benzene.
  • Avoiding high doses of radiation.
  • Non- smoking and not using tobacco in any other form.
  • Avoiding certain types of chemotherapy that is used to treat other types of cancer.

Risk factors of Leukaemia

Risk factors for blood cancer are as follows:

  • People who have been exposed to very high radiation levels are more likely to develop leukaemia.
  • Patients who have had medical treatment in the past that used a high-level exposure to radiation. The radiation that is diagnostic in nature, however, is of a much lower level and is not associated with blood cancer.
  • Workers in the chemical industry and other work-places where they are exposed to high benzene levels are at a risk of developing Leukaemia.
  • Patients who have undergone chemotherapy for the treatment of past cancers sometimes develop Leukaemia later.
  • Certain genetic diseases like Down syndrome, caused by abnormal chromosomes are likely to increase the risk of Leukaemia.
  • Human T-cell leukaemia, a rare type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is caused by the virus Human T-cell leukemia virus-I (HTLV-I).
  • Patients suffering with a blood condition called Myelodysplastic syndrome are more at risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia than others.

Symptoms of Leukaemia

Some Symptoms of Leukaemia:

  • When one suffers from onstant weakness and tiredness
  • When a person experiences a loss of appetite and unaccountable weight loss.
  • When bleeding that does not stop easily becomes a cause for concern.
  • Unnatural night sweats and fevers.
  • Unexplained fever, chills, and other flu like symptoms.
  • Unexplained pain in the bones or joints.

Treatment for Leukaemia

Treatment of Leukaemia is as follows:

  • The treatment involved in curing chronic Blood Cancer includes steroids, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and several other intensive treatments.
  • Drugs that can kill the cancer are sometimes given in the form of tablets but they are mostly given intravenously.
  • Transplantations are complicated procedures that sometimes are a possible cure for Leukaemia. Patients should ideally be under 55 years of age to receive a transplant from a donor who is tissue compatible. If the patient is using his own marrow cells for the transplant then he should be under the age of 65.
  • A certain tablet-form of vitamin-A taken along with chemotherapy is used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia
  • A protein having anti-cancer effects and produced by the body normally is given in an injection-form.
  • The blood cells in our body all grow from stem cells. Chemotherapy in high doses is known to damage stem cells. As a way out, before the treatment involving harmful levels of chemotherapy is administered to the patient, stem cells are removed from his bone marrow. After the chemotherapy is over, these are transplanted back.

Types of Leukaemia

There are different types of Leukaemias. These can be divided broadly into two types: Acute blood cancer is where the symptoms become evident early and usually the treatment will begin as soon as it is diagnosed. The second type which is the Chronic Leukaemia is when the symptoms are not evident early. The therapy will start once the symptoms are evident and the patient kept under maintenance therapy.