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What is Leukaemia?

What is Leukaemia?

Leukemias are cancers of the bone marrow (the site of blood cell production). Often the disorder is associated with the overproduction of white blood cells that are immature. Such young white blood cells are not doing as well as they should be. Therefore, the patient is often prone to infection. Leukaemia also affects red blood cells and can cause poor blood clotting and Fatigue due to anemia. Examples of leukemia include:

  • Myelogenous or granulocytic leukemia (malignancy of the myeloid and granulocytic white blood cell series)
  • Lymphatic, lymphocytic, or lymphoblastic leukemia (malignancy of the lymphoid and lymphocytic blood cell series)
  • Polycythemia vera or erythremia (malignancy of various blood cell products, but with red cells predominating)

There are several types of leukemia, including:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL): This is the most common type of leukemia in children, but it can also occur in adults. It progresses rapidly and affects immature lymphoid cells.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): This type of leukemia can occur in both children and adults. It is characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal myeloid cells, which are immature blood cells that normally develop into different types of blood cells.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): CLL primarily affects older adults and progresses slowly. It involves the overproduction of mature but abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML): CML occurs mainly in adults and is associated with the abnormal growth of myeloid cells. It has three phases: chronic phase, accelerated phase, and blast crisis.

The exact cause of leukemia is often unknown, but certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These risk factors include exposure to high levels of radiation, certain chemicals (e.g., benzene), smoking, genetic factors, certain genetic disorders (e.g., Down syndrome), and a weakened immune system. Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type and stage of the disease but may include fatigue, frequent infections, unexplained weight loss, easy bruising or bleeding, bone or joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and night sweats. Diagnosis typically involves blood tests, bone marrow biopsy, and imaging tests. Treatment options for leukemia depend on the type, stage, and individual factors. They may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplantation, and immunotherapy. The goal of treatment is to destroy the leukemic cells and allow normal blood cell production to resume. Leukemia can be a serious and life-threatening condition, but advances in medical treatments have improved the prognosis for many patients. Close monitoring, adherence to treatment plans, and ongoing medical care are essential for managing leukemia effectively.  

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