Leukemia is a blood cancer that attacks the blood-forming tissue, usually in the bone marrow and lymphatic system, a system that functions to drain lymph in the body. This disease is caused by an increased number of white blood cells.
When a person has leukemia, the body produces more white blood cells than it should be. These white blood cells will shift out the red blood cells and platelets, which are supposed to play a role in keeping the body healthy.
There are several types of leukemia. Some types of leukemia generally affect children more often, while other types are more common to adults.
The treatment for leukemia patients is a long and complex process. The whole process is adjusted according to the patient’s type of leukemia and other factors.
Causes of Leukemia
There is still no scientific explanation as to what causes excess production of white blood cells in leukemia. This though, can be influenced by many factors, including genetics and environmental factors.
In general, leukemia is thought to occur when some blood cells experience DNA mutations, which refers to a change in instruction within each cell that guides cell activity. The exact cause of DNA mutation is unknown.
Certain abnormalities can cause cells to grow and divide faster than expected. Normally, blood cells will die in time and are replaced by new blood cells. However, in leukemia, these growing cells will continue to live and never die, causing excess cell levels.
Over time, these abnormal cells will suppress healthy blood cells in the bone marrow. This condition will cause a reduction in the number of healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets – this can be a sign of leukemia.
Some people have a greater risk of developing leukemia. Leukemia risk factors are:
- Smoking habits.
- Previous cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Certain genetic disorders such as Down syndrome.
- Family history of leukemia, especially in siblings or parents.
- Exposure to certain chemicals at work, such as being exposed to benzene in gasoline while working at gas stations or in the chemical industry.
When to See a Doctor for Leukemia?
When a person has leukemia or blood cancer, one should see a cancer specialist doctor or an oncologist.
Leukemia is a blood cell disorder. In this case, treatment is often guided by an oncologist who is assisted by a hematologist.
Oftentimes, patients with leukemia do not know that they have the disease. The patient’s condition may be diagnosed accidentally by the doctor through routine blood tests.
If the patient is suspected of having leukemia, the patient will be asked to undergo a series of routine examinations consisting of:
- Physical examination. In this examination, the doctor will look for signs or symptoms of leukemia from the patient’s physical appearance. These signs can include pale skin due to anemia, swollen lymph nodes, or enlarged liver and spleen.
- Blood test. Blood tests are one of the most accurate tests to detect leukemia. The doctor will take a sample of the patient’s blood and see if there are any irregularities in the blood cell or platelet levels in the patient’s body.
- Bone marrow test. This test is done by taking a bone marrow sample from the patient’s hip bone. Later, these samples will be tested in the laboratory. Sampling is done using a long and thin needle. The results of this test will show the characteristics of certain types of leukemia and will determine the treatment option.
Symptoms of Leukemia
Generally, each person with leukemia will experience different symptoms, depending on the type of leukemia they have. These symptoms usually go undetected in the early stages of the disease.
The common symptoms of leukemia include:
- Anemia or similar symptoms, such as fatigue and pallor.
- Loss of appetite and significant weight loss.
- Tendency to bruise or bleed easily, including bleeding from the gums or nose as well as blood in the stool and urine.
- Susceptible to infections such as sore throat, headache, low-grade fever, mouth sores, skin rashes.
- Swollen lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpits, or groin.
- Discomfort under the lower left rib caused by swelling of the spleen.
- High white blood cell levels and can cause vision problems due to retinal bleeding, prolonged erections, changes in mental state, and strokes.
Patients with early stages of leukemia usually will not experience certain symptoms. This causes many leukemia patients to be unaware of their condition and only undergo treatment after the condition gets worse.
If someone already feels the symptoms of leukemia, it is a sign that the leukemia is already at a far along stage.
Treatment for Leukemia
Treatment for leukemia or blood cancer patients is determined by many factors. The doctor will choose the leukemia treatment based on the patient’s age and the patient’s overall health condition.
Moreover, the type of leukemia and the spread of cancer will also be taken into consideration to determine what kind of medical treatment should be done.
For conditions of acute lymphocytic leukemia or acute myeloid leukemia, the main objective of treatment is to prevent its spread. Patients with this type of leukemia are required to undergo chemotherapy in the hospital and stay in a private inpatient room to prevent possible infection.
Leukemia patients have very low levels of red blood cells and platelets. That is why during treatment, the patient will be given a blood transfusion. Moreover, patients will also be given antibiotics and other medications to treat infections and control the side effects of chemotherapy.
In general, the most common leukemia treatments are:
- Chemotherapy. This treatment uses chemicals to kill leukemia cells. The medications given during chemotherapy depends on the type of leukemia you have.
- Biological therapy. This treatment is to help the immune system recognize leukemia cells and attack them.
- Radiation therapy. This therapy uses X-rays or other technology to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. Not only can radiation therapy be done in the center of leukemia, but also throughout the body.
- Stem cell transplant. This procedure helps replace the problematic bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Transplantation can be done if the patient receives a bone marrow donor.
Treatment Costs for Leukemia
The cost for leukemia treatment varies, depending on the symptoms, the severity, and the treatment method chosen.
For more information regarding the estimated costs of leukemia treatment, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Leukemia
The exact cause of leukemia is still unknown. Therefore, there are no particular preventive measures to prevent this disease.
However, routine health screens with blood tests can help provide quicker diagnosis. This means treatment can be done immediately to avoid spreading.
Smokers are also more likely to develop this disease. Hence, prevention can be done by quitting smoking.
Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Leukemia
In general, patients with leukemia are required to undergo intensive treatment in the hospital. The patient will be given permission to return home after their health has improved and the leukemia cells have completely disappeared.
Post-treatment, patients have the potential to experience complications, especially for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Therefore, patients are expected to regularly consume prescribed medicines to prevent complications and return for routine checkups several months after they have completed treatment.