In India, more than one lakh people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Blood cancer, also called haematological cancer, originates in the bone marrow and can affect different parts of the body since the cancerous cells are carried through the bloodstream. While there are a few different types of blood cancer, the primary reason that they affect the body is that the abnormal white blood cells start to grow out of control rapidly and leave no space for the normal blood cells, which fight off infection and produce new blood cells.
Types of blood cancer
Studies have shown that blood cancer accounts for eight per cent of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in India. Leukaemia, Lymphoma and Multiple Myeloma are all known types of blood cancer that affect the Indian population. While Leukaemia and Lymphoma are known to affect both adults and children alike, Myeloma is more commonly known to affect adults than children.
Leukaemia is a cancer that occurs in the white blood cells, which prevents them from fighting infections as a part of a person’s immune system. Leukaemia can either be acute (fast-growing), or chronic (slow-growing) and this type is most commonly found in children under the age of 15.
Lymphoma is a cancer caused by the lymphatic system, which is responsible for storing and releasing white blood cells into the body when required. This type of cancer mainly affects lymphocytes, a variety of white blood cells present in the lymph nodes and is the most common type of blood cancer in adults. More than half of diagnosed patients with blood cancer suffer from Lymphoma.
Myeloma affects the plasma cells of the blood that are responsible for producing antibodies that fight infections in the body. This type of blood cancer can make a person’s body more susceptible to infections.
Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia (APL)
Amongst acute and chronic types of Leukaemia in blood cancer, acute Leukaemia is known to be quicker in spreading and needs to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. There are various types of acute Leukaemia, and the sub type Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia (APL) is known to be the most dangerous type. It is a rare and quick-moving subtype that is the accumulation of premature white blood cells in the bone marrow.
APL is most commonly found in people over the age of 40, and the beginning stage is considered to be the most crucial, where the patients are considered to be at high risk of infection and are also associated with the risk of death. The average white blood cell count for adults is deemed to be from 4,000 to 11,000 per microlitre, and a patient is considered to be at high risk when it exceeds this limit.
Symptoms and causes
The most common symptom associated with APL is bleeding disorder which causes the patient to bleed excessively. A person can also suffer from blood clot formation in different body parts. The reduced red blood cell count that happens due to the overcrowding of white blood cells causes the patient to become anaemic, and this, in turn, causes initial symptoms like fatigue and pallor. The reduced number of functioning white blood cells causes the patient to be more prone to infections than an average person would be, and the decreased number of platelets increases the risk of bruising and bleeding.
The leading cause of APL is majorly genetic and has very little to do with the lifestyle of a patient. While a few harmful practices may be a triggering factor for cancer, it is not the direct cause of the disease itself.
Treatment and therapies
The main goal of the treatments is to control the harmful symptoms while also decreasing the risk of complications. The most effective way to treat APL is to give targeted therapy to the patient that will identify the abnormal cells from the normal functioning cells and focus on eliminating the cancer cells through combined methods of chemotherapy and radiation.
The final aim of the treatments and therapies is focused on bringing the blood cell count to an average or near-normal level and also reducing the symptoms of APL disease.
After the cancer is eradicated, the final step is to move the patient to the consolidation phase, which aims to prevent relapse. While studies have shown that patients who are entirely cured mostly don’t relapse, the first year after the end of treatment is considered crucial, as any rare cases of relapse happen during that time.
Hope for treatment in the future
While time is of the essence with APL, and the earliest diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a patient’s life and recovery, there is a lot of research being done in this particular field of blood cancer, where investigative trials are being conducted on oral treatments that are more effective and less invasive for the patient. These new treatments also aim at targeting the abnormalities that are specific to each patient’s genetic frame so that the treatment is more effective with fewer side effects.
With the time of diagnosis and treatment being significant for APL, the advancement in this field has raised the survival rates to 75-84%. APL is now considered to be a highly curable disease, and the early mortality rate, which used to be 26%, has dropped drastically after the discovery of the all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) treatment.