What Is Leukaemia?
Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood cells. It is the most common type of blood cancer and affects 10 times as many adults as children. Most people diagnosed with leukaemia are over 50 years old.
Leukaemia Starts in Bone Marrow
Leukaemia usually begins in the bone marrow, the soft material in the center of most bones where blood cells are formed. The bone marrow makes three types of blood cells, and each type has a special function.
• White blood cells fight infection and disease.
• Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
• Platelets help control bleeding by forming blood clots.
In people with Leukaemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, called Leukaemia cells. At first, Leukaemia cells function almost normally. But over time, as more Leukaemia cells are produced, they may crowd out the healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This makes it difficult for the blood to carry out its normal functions.
There are four common types of adult Leukaemia. Two are chronic, meaning they get worse over a longer period of time. The other two are acute, meaning they get worse quickly.
• chronic lymphocytic Leukaemia
• chronic myeloid Leukaemia
• acute myeloid Leukaemia
• acute lymphocytic Leukaemia
Chronic and Acute Leukaemia
Chronic lymphocytic Leukaemia, chronic myeloid Leukaemia, and acute myeloid Leukaemia are diagnosed more often in older adults. Of these, chronic lymphocytic Leukaemia is the most common. Acute lymphocytic Leukaemia is found more often in children.
The symptoms for each type of Leukaemia differ but may include fevers, frequent infections, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, and bleeding and bruising easily. However, such symptoms are not sure signs of Leukaemia. An infection or another problem also could cause these symptoms. Only a doctor can diagnose and treat the problem.
Other Cancers That Affect Blood Cells
Myeloma and lymphoma are other types of cancer that affect blood cells, but these cancer cells are rarely found in the blood stream. Myeloma is the second most common form of blood cancer, and it affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that is found in the bone marrow. Lymphoma accounts for about five percent of all the types of cancer in the United States. It starts in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's immune system. Both myeloma and lymphoma are more common among older adults and occur more often in men than women.
Many Treatments Are Available
There are many methods available to treat acute and chronic Leukaemia. They include chemotherapy, biological therapy, or stem cell transplantation. Some people receive a combination of treatments. Acute Leukaemia usually needs to be treated right away. But there are many different kinds of acute Leukaemia. Some respond well to treatment and can be cured in some cases, while others are more difficult to treat. Treatment for chronic Leukaemia can often control the disease and its symptoms, but it can seldom cure the disease. However, there are several treatments now available for chronic myeloid Leukaemia that can control the disease for a long time.