Leukemia is blood cancer due to the body producing too much abnormal white blood cells and can occur in adults and children.
White blood cells are part of the immune system that is produced in the bone marrow. When the function of the bone marrow is disrupted, the white blood cells produced will undergo changes and no longer carry out their role effectively.
Initially, this blood cancer does not cause signs. The symptoms arise when cancer cells have increased and started to attack body cells. Symptoms that appear also vary depending on the type. However, in general, the characteristics of people with leukemia are:
- Fever and chills
- The body feels tired and it does not disappear even though you have rested
- Drastic weight loss
- Symptoms of anemia
- Red spots on the skin
- Bruised body easily
- Excessive sweating (especially at night)
- Infected easily
- Lumps appear in the neck due to swollen lymph nodes
- Stomach feels uncomfortable due to the liver and spleen swell
More severe symptoms can be experienced by patients if cancer cells clog the arteries of certain organs. More severe symptoms that can appear include:
- Painful headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle lost control
- Bone pain
When to see a doctor?
Immediately, consult a doctor if the symptoms appear such as recurring and prolonged fever or nosebleeds. Symptoms of leukemia often resemble those of other infectious diseases, such as the flu. Examination needs to be done to detect the possibility of early cancer and prevent progression.
If you are an active smoker and it is difficult to stop smoking, then consult with your doctor about the steps you can take to stop smoking. Smoking is one of the factors that can increase the risk of getting this disease.
Blood cancer treatment requires a long time. Routinely, consult with your doctor during treatment, even to the end of treatment. This is done so that the development of the disease is always monitored by a doctor.
Leukemia is caused by abnormalities of white blood cells in the body and grows out of control. Not yet known the exact cause of the changes that occur, but the following factors are thought to increase the risk of this blood cancer. The risk factors for leukemia include:
- Have family members who have had this disease
- Suffer from genetic disorders, such as Down Syndrome
- Suffering from blood disorders, such as myelodysplasia syndrome
- Have a smoking habit
- Have undergone cancer treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- Work in environments exposed to chemicals, such as benzene
This blood cancer can be chronic and acute. In chronic leukemia, cancer cells develop slowly and the initial symptoms that appear are usually classified as very mild. While in acute leukemia, the development of cancer cells occurs very quickly and symptoms that appear can worsen in a short time. The acute type is more dangerous than the chronic type.
Based on the type of white blood cells involved, leukemia is divided into 4 main types, namely:
1. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) occurs when the bone marrow produces too much white blood cells of the type of immature lymphocytes or lymphoblasts.
2. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) occurs when the bone marrow produces too much abnormal lymphocytes and slowly causes cancer.
3. Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia
Acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) occurs when the bone marrow produces too much immature myeloid cells or myeloblasts.
4. Chronic Myelocytic Leukemia
Chronic myelocytic leukemia (CML) occurs when the bone marrow is unable to produce mature myeloid cells.
Besides the four types above, there are several other types of leukemia that are rare, including:
- Hairy cell leukemia.
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.
- Promyelocytic acute leukemia.
- Large granular lymphocytic leukemia.
- Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, a type of myelomonocytic leukemia that attacks children under 6 years.
The doctor will ask about the symptoms experienced by the patient and do a physical examination. Through physical examination, the doctor can detect the signs that appear such as bruises on the skin, pale skin due to anemia, and swollen lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.
However, the diagnosis cannot be confirmed only by physical examination. Therefore, the doctor will conduct further tests to confirm the diagnosis and the type of blood cancer experienced by the patient. The type of examinations to be carried out are:
1. Blood Test
A complete blood count test is performed to find out the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Doctors can suspect patients suffering from this disease if the number of red blood cells or platelets is low and the shape of the blood cells is not normal.
2. Bone Marrow Aspiration
The procedure for bone marrow aspiration is done by taking a sample of spinal cord tissue from the hip bone using long and thin needles. This sample is then examined in a laboratory to detect cancer cells.
Besides the diagnostic tests above, the doctor will also carry out further tests to check for organ abnormalities due to leukemia. The types of tests that can be done are:
- Scanning tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI.
- Lumbar puncture.
- Liver function test.
- Spleen biopsy.
The oncology hematologist (blood and cancer specialist) will determine the type of treatment based on the type and the patient’s overall condition. Here are some treatment methods to treat leukemia:
- Chemotherapy. It is a treatment method that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drug can be in the form of taking tablets or injectable infusions.
- Immune therapy or immunotherapy. It is the administration of drugs to enhance the immune system and help the body fight cancer cells. Types of drugs used, for example, interferon.
- Target therapy. It is the use of drugs to inhibit the production of proteins used by cancer cells to develop. Types of drugs used, for example, imatinib.
- Radiotherapy. It is a treatment method to destroy and stop the growth of cancer cells by using high-energy radiation rays.
- Bone marrow transplantation. Itis a procedure to replace damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.
Sometimes, surgical procedures are also performed to remove an enlarged spleen (splenectomy). Enlarged spleen organs can worsen the symptoms experienced by patients.
This blood cancer can cause complications if the treatment is not done immediately. Some complications that can occur are:
- Bleeding in organs, such as the brain or lungs.
- The body is vulnerable to infection.
- Risk of other types of blood cancer, such as lymphoma.
Complications can also occur due to the action taken by medication. Here are some complications due to leukemia treatment:
- Graft versus host disease, which is a complication of bone marrow transplantation.
- Hemolytic anemia.
- Tumor lysis syndrome.
- Impaired kidney function.
- Cancer cells reappear after the patient underwent treatment.
Children with leukemia are also at risk of complications due to the treatment. The types of complications that can occur include central nervous system disorders, growth and development disorders, and cataracts.
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There is no effective way to prevent leukemia until now. However, there are several ways you can do to reduce your risk, including:
- Doing exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Use personal protective equipment, especially if you work in an environment that is vulnerable to exposure to chemicals, such as benzene
Carry out regular health checks to detect cancer early, especially if you have a family history of cancer.