Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. This is mainly because there are scores of types of cancer that affect different parts of the body and to different measures. One such type of cancer that affects humans is leukemia. Read on to find out more about this life-threatening disease.
What is leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects human blood cells – red blood cells, white blood cells, and even the platelets.
Typically, the term leukemia is used to describe the cancer of white blood cells. This is because the white blood cells in our bloodstream are among the major and most essential parts of the human immune system. This means that if the white blood cells of the body are compromised, the immune system also gets affected.
Many a time, the white blood cells that have been affected by cancer multiply quickly and crowd the bloodstream. This leads to a drop in the red blood cells and platelets that are also essential for human survival.
Different types of Leukemia
Leukemia can be classified in different ways. We can either classify it based on how fast the cells divide, multiply, and spread throughout the body or based on the type of cells that are involved.
Other than these classifications, there are four main types of leukemia:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
This type of leukemia occurs in the white blood cells in the bone marrow. It is most commonly observed in children.
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
AML is the most common type of leukemia that affects adults across the world.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
This kind of leukemia typically affects only adults. In some individuals, CLL will manifest as stable, but for others, it will lead to the inability to produce normal blood cells.
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
CML most affects older individuals or those who are above the age of 65. Not to mention, this type of leukemia typically does not portray any kind of symptoms, which is why it can go undetected.
Symptoms of leukemia
Much like the other types of cancer, leukemia, too, manifests in the form of stages. This means that each stage comes with different symptoms and signs. Despite this, there are some symptoms that should help you identify leukemia.
- Loss in weight
- Pain in the bones
- Swelling in the lymph nodes
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- A weakened immune system that leads to frequent infections in the body
- Experiencing fever or chills
- Enlargement of organs such as liver or spleen
- A constant sense of weakness, tiredness, and fatigue
- Patches and red spots on the skin
Causes of Leukemia
There is no specific way to determine the exact cause of leukemia in an individual. But, research has shown that there are few potential risk factors that could trigger the disease. These risk factors include:
- Exposure and inhalation of smoke
- Radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer
- Genetic predisposition to leukemia
The diagnosis of leukemia is a simple process and filled with different tests. These tests include:
- Blood tests
Leukemia affects the blood, hence a complete CBC (complete blood count) is essential. It helps look at the number and maturity of the different types of blood cells.
- Bone marrow biopsy
Since white blood cells are often found in the bone marrow, doctors usually advise for a bone marrow biopsy to study leukemia and its severity.
- Spinal tap
This test involves removing a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the spine with a needle. It helps the doctors understand how far leukemia has spread throughout the body.
- Imaging tests
A series of imaging tests like MRIs, CT scans, and even PET scans can help spot the typical signs of leukemia cancer in the body.