What is Leukaemia: Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Types & Treatment
Leukaemia is one of the most dangerous types of cancer in children and young adults. This condition typically starts with white blood cells called lymphocytes multiplying abnormally.
The treatment varies depending on the type and stage of the disease. If caught early, it can be cured with the appropriate treatment. However, if treatment is delayed or not given at all, it can be a life-threatening condition.
Let us take a deeper look into the symptoms, signs, causes, types, and treatment of leukaemia.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Leukaemia
- Fever or chills
Fever or chills are among the first symptoms of leukaemia. However, with this condition, the fever gradually becomes high and later persists for a long time.
- Persistent fatigue
Children with leukaemia may have trouble sleeping and feel too weak to do their activities.
- Weight loss without particular reason
Yet another sign of leukaemia is weight loss without any reason, even after eating a proper amount. It may happen that the child has an appetite but is losing weight.
- Bone or joint pain
One of the signs of leukaemia is bone or joint pain. For example, a child who is suffering from leukaemia will have pain in the arms and legs, and back and neck, along with swelling and stiffness.
- Severe or persistent infections
Another common sign of leukaemia is severe or persistent infections. The infection occurs when your body loses its ability to fight infection by boosting the immune system.
- Easy bleeding or bruising
Another sign of leukaemia is easy bleeding or bruising. This may happen when the platelets in the blood are reduced.
- Swollen lymph nodes
Lymph nodes are small glands connected to your bone marrow. Swollen lymph nodes are one of the symptoms of leukaemia.
What Causes Leukaemia?
Various factors can lead to leukaemia, of which the main ones include:
- Genetic predisposition
People who have family members with leukaemia are likely to develop this condition. Your chance of developing this blood cancer increases if you have an identical twin or other close relative diagnosed with this disease.
- Immunodeficiency disorders or genetic conditions
Leukaemia can result from immunodeficiency disorders or genetic conditions in which the body lacks certain cell types or the ability to fight infections and certain diseases. For example, conditions such as Down syndrome, neurofibromatosis, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome, and Klinefelter syndrome increase the risk of this disease.
- Chemotherapy or radiation
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other conditions can lead to the development of leukaemia.
Smoking increases your chances of developing leukaemia. It is because the chemicals found in cigarettes destroy your immune system and the white blood cells that you need to fight infection.
- Exposure to heavy metals and industrial chemicals
Exposure to heavy metals can lead to poisoning in children and young adults causing leukaemia. Heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, and mercury are among the causes of this condition in children and young adults. Industrial chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene also have been known to cause leukaemia.
Different Types of Leukaemia
- Acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL)
This is the most common type of leukaemia among children and young adults. Although blood cancer is not fatal, this leukaemia type has the highest rate of survival among all other types. Moreover, Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia or ALL can happen to individuals of any age.
- Acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML)
Acute myelogenous leukaemia commonly occurs among adults. However, it can also happen to children, depending on the genetic pattern of the individual.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
This type of leukaemia most commonly affects older adults. CLL may develop in people with a family history of this disease. Unlike ALL, CLL is not fatal but can lead to serious organ damage and lasting side effects.
- Chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML)
This is another type of leukaemia that tends to affect older adults. CML can also happen to children, but it is rare.
Different Types of Treatment for Leukaemia
There are different types of treatment for leukaemia. Usually, blood cancer treatment mostly depends on the leukaemia type, age and overall health of the patient, or how far the disease has spread. The treatment often involves a combination of the following options:
Chemotherapy is the most common type of treatment for cancer. In this process, a combination of chemicals or drugs is used to kill the cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. With chemotherapy, you may have some side effects like nausea, pain, swollen lymph nodes, and hair loss.
- Immunotherapy or biologic therapy
In the case of leukaemia, immunotherapy or biologic therapy is used to treat the cancer cells. This treatment is used for treating leukaemia that is caused by a certain gene mutation. In immunotherapy, the patient is given drugs like interferon and interleukins to boost their body’s defence system or immunity to fight against cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy
In this type of treatment, only the cancer cells are targeted. This means that it does not affect the healthy cells around them. The treatment involves using targeted drugs such as monoclonal antibodies for attacking certain parts of leukaemia cells such as proteins or genes to prevent them from multiplying and taking over normal blood cells. This is usually achieved by killing the leukaemia cells or cutting the blood supply to these cells.
- Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other radiation beams to destroy cancer cells.
- Stem cell or bone marrow transplant
This treatment involves replacing the patient’s bone marrow or blood stem cells with healthy cells. A stem cell transplant is usually used to treat leukaemia that has progressed and cannot be treated with other types of treatments.
You may need surgery to remove cancer and/or damaged tissue in your body. This treatment may include removing parts of your spleen and the procedure is called a splenectomy.
Leukaemia is a serious condition. It can be caused by certain factors like radiation, genetic predisposition, and an immune system disorder or other illness. The causes of leukaemia are many and varied. You should consult an experienced oncologist for blood cancer treatment, which is essential in order to save your life.
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