Leukaemia: Causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment
Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells which attacks part of the immune system.
It is a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce abnormal leucocytes, preventing the production of normal blood cells.
The onset of leukaemia can be acute or chronic. In acute leukemia, cancer cells multiply quickly. In chronic leukemia, the disease progresses slowly and early symptoms may be very mild.
The exact cause of leukemia is unknown, but it is thought to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
However, risk factors that predispose one to the disease have been identified to include radiation exposure, certain chemotherapy for cancer, smoking, family history of leukemia, genetic disorders such as Down syndrome and exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene.
Common symptoms of chronic or acute leukemia may include pain in the bones or joints, swollen lymph nodes that usually don’t hurt, fevers or night sweats, fatigue, bleeding and bruising easily, susceptibility to infections, discomfort or swelling in the abdomen, weight loss or loss of appetite.
There is no known way to prevent or cure leukemia yet but it can be managed through certain treatments.
Treatments for leukemia include chemotherapy (major treatment modality for leukemia), radiation therapy, biological therapy, targeted therapy, and stem cell transplant.
Surgical removal of the spleen can be a part of treatment if the spleen is enlarged. Most patients with leukemia are treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or bone marrow transplantation.
Leukemia is usually treated by a hematologist-oncologist, doctors who specialise in blood disorders and cancer.