Leukemia can best be described as cancer of the blood cells. It often starts in the bone marrow, a soft tissue located within most bones. This is where blood cells are usually made, namely the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
When you have leukemia, your bone marrow begins to manufacture abnormal white blood cells, commonly referred to as leukemia cells. They are unlike normal white blood cells as they grow at an alarming rate and do not stop growing when they should. In time, these cells will crowd out the normal blood cells, leading to serious conditions such as bleeding, infections and even anemia.
Experts are yet to discern the exact cause of leukemia. However, some things may elevate your risk of developing leukemia. These include being exposed to a large amounts of radiation or a variety of chemicals at work, for instance benzene. The symptoms attributed to leukemia range from night sweats, to bone pain, frequent nosebleeds, neck lumps, frequent fevers and unexplained weight loss.
The main goal of Leukemia treatment is to destroy the abnormal blood cells to allow for the manufacture of normal cells in your bone marrow. Treatment will be based mainly on the kind of leukemia you have, its progression, your age and your overall health.
For acute leukemia, the treatment follows the following stages; induction therapy, consolidation therapy and maintenance therapy. Induction therapy kills the abnormal cells in the blood and bone marrow, inducing the patient into remission. It may include chemotherapy and corticosteroids. Consolidation therapy, on the other hand, kills any cells that might be present in the body but did not show up in tests. These cells, if not treated, might regrow, causing a relapse. The treatment is achieved through more chemotherapy and in some cases may require a stem cell transplant. Maintenance therapy prevents any remaining abnormal cells from growing. It involves low doses of chemotherapy.
When it comes to chronic lymphocytic leukemia, radiation therapy may be used for treatment together with chemotherapy. If there are no signs of leukemia for five years, a person may be considered cured. However, if the leukemia fails to go into remission, or returns within a few years, then the treatment is reverted to more chemotherapy, or perhaps joining a clinical trial.
In some unique cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, treatment may involve surgery. For instance, the spleen will have to be removed if it is destroying the platelets and red blood cells in an operation referred to as a splenectomy. In some other cases, a lymph node may be removed to confirm a leukemia diagnosis.
There is no known way to prevent majority of the types of leukemia. However, some types of leukemia can be prevented by avoiding exposure to high doses of radiation as well as the chemical benzene. It may also serve you well to steer clear of tobacco use and certain types of chemotherapy meant for other types of cancer.