Leukaemia or acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) affects the blood and bone marrow. This type of cancer is caused by the excessive production of immature white blood cells called a lymphoblast. Hence, the name lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Bone marrow is the body responsible for the production of blood cells. Since leukaemia affects the bone marrow, the production of healthy blood cells in the body is halted. Hence, patients with leukaemia are more prone to other conditions such as anaemia, recurrent infections, or bleeding.
Leukaemia is a rapid type of cancer in which the cancerous cells begin to proliferate and spread to other organs specifically lymph nodes, spleen, liver, brain, and spinal cord. Hence, any abrupt symptoms should be acknowledged and brought to the physician’s attention.
Types of Leukaemia
Leukaemia is of the following types:
- Pre-B-cell ALL: This is the most common type in children and is found in 85% of cases. This cancer develops in the B-lymphocytes that are in the early stages in the bone marrow.
- B-cell ALL: This cancer develops in the mature B-lymphocytes.
- T-cell ALL: This cancer is the second prevalent type in children and is found in 15% of the cases. This cancer affects the T-cells in the bone marrow.
Leukaemia is rapid cancer and the symptoms begin to accelerate quickly as compared to other cancers. Hence, the following signs and symptoms should not be avoided:
- Anaemia due to impaired RBC production.
- Frequent infections.
- Persistent tiredness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and paleness.
- Frequent bruising.
- Unexplained bleeding.
- Bone or joint pain.
- Chest pain.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Abdominal pain.
Swollen spleen or liver
The exact cause of leukaemia is not known. The possible causes, however, include:
- Poor immunity.
- Exposure to harmful chemicals.
- Exposure to harmful radiations.
- Genetic disorders.
- Family history.
Leukaemia is diagnosed by evaluating blood and bone marrow samples. It involves the following tests:
- Full blood count: A full blood count of complete blood count is performed to evaluate the level of blood cells in the body.
- Bone marrow examination: A small sample from bone marrow is collected and examined for the number and type of cells present.
- Other tests: Once leukaemia is confirmed, other special tests such as immune-phenotyping, cytogenetic and molecular tests are conducted. These tests further confirm the cancer stage. Furthermore, a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid is also extracted to check the presence of cancerous cells brain and spinal cord.
Leukaemia is aggressive cancer. Hence, it has to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. The treatment strategy for cancer depends on the stage of cancer and the age of the patient. The treatment includes:
- Chemotherapy: A combination of anti-cancer drugs is administered in multiple cycles for a certain period. This is done to destroy all leukaemic cells. The phases of chemotherapy include:
a. Induction phase: In this phase, the drugs are administered intensively to destroy the cancerous cells and restore normal function. It may last between 1-2 months.
b.Consolidation phase: In this phase, the drugs are administered to destroy the remaining cancerous cells. It may also last for 1-2 months.
c.Maintenance phase: In this phase, the drugs are administered to prevent relapse. A low dose of drugs is administered to patients which helps them in leading cancer-free life.
2. Bone marrow transplantation: This surgery is usually preferred when the chances of relapse are very high. In this procedure, the damaged or cancerous bone marrow is replaced with a healthy one from a donor to restore the normal production of blood cells.
3. Targeted therapy: In this therapy, certain molecules present in the leukaemic cells are targeted to prevent them from spreading.