Leukemia


Leukemia strikes all ages and both sexes. In 1995 approximately 20,400
people died from Leukemia. The all time five year survival rate is 38%. This
rate has gone to 52% in the mid 1980ís. Approximately 25,700 cases were
reported in 1995 alone(American Cancer Society-leukemia, 1995).
Leukemia is a form of cancer in the blood cells. Most forms of Leukemia
occur in the white blood cells. These abnormal cells reproduce in large
quantities and look and perform differently than normal cells(MedicineNet-
leukemia, 1997).
Right now the causes of Leukemia are unknown. Some studies have shown that
exposure to high-energy radiation increases chances of contracting leukemia.
Such radiation was produced in the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II.
There is also enough energy in nuclear plants so strict safety precautions are
taken. Some research shows that exposure to electric magnetic fields, such as
power lines and electric appliances, is a possible risk factor. More studies
are needed to prove this link. Some genetic conditions, such as Downís syndrome,
are also believed to increase the risk factor. Exposure to some chemicals is
also suspected to be a risk factor. By learning the causes of leukemia
treatment options will become available(MedicineNet-leukemia, 1997).
There are many symptoms of leukemia. The symptoms of leukemia are the same
for all the different types of leukemia. The acute types of leukemia, ALL and
AML, symptoms are seen more quickly than in the chronic types of leukemia, CLL
and CML, where symptoms do not necessarily appear right away. The symptoms are
flu symptom, weakness, fatigue, constant infections, easily bleed and bruise,
loss of weight and appetite, swollen lymph nodes, liver or spleen, paleness,
bone or joint pain, excess sweating, swollen or bleeding gums, nosebleeds and
other hemorrhages, and red spots called petechiae located underneath the skin.
In acute Leukemia the cancerous cells may collect around the central nervous
system. The results can include headaches, vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle
control, or seizures. These clumps of cancer cells can collect in other various
parts of the body(MedicineNet-leukemia, 1997 and American Cancer Society-
leukemia, 1995).
Leukemia can be diagnosed in a number of ways. Blood work is commonly
done in the laboratory. Different forms of blood work include checking the
hemoglobin count, platelet count, or white blood cell count. X-rays are
routinely done for treatment follow-up. Ultrasound is also used as a treatment
follow-up. CT Scan is a special type of x-ray used as a detailed cross section
of a specific area of the body. Bone marrow is routinely tested to examine
progress of the disease. Spinal taps are also used in certain types of cancers.
The spinal fluid is checked to see if cancer cells are present(Parent and
Patient handbook-hematology/oncology clinic, Childrenís Hospital of Michigan,
19??)
Treatment of Leukemia is very complex. Treatments are tailored to fit
each patientís needs. The treatment depends on the type of the cancer and
features of the cells. It also depends on the patientís age, symptoms, and
general health. Acute Leukemia must be treated immediately. The goal of
treatment is to get the cancer into remission. Many people with Leukemia may be
cured. To be considered cured, you must be cancer free for at least five years.
This time also varies depending on the type of cancer. The most common
treatment of Leukemia is chemotherapy. Bone marrow transplants, Radiation, or
biological therapy are also available options. Surgery is also occasionally
used. Chemotherapy is a treatment method in which drugs are given to kill off
the cancerous cells. One or more drugs may be used depending on the type of
Leukemia. Anticancer drugs are usually given by IV injection. Occasionally
they are given orally. Chemotherapy is given in cycles: a treatment period
followed by a recovery period followed by another treatment period and this
process continues for a certain amount of time. Radiation therapy is used along
with chemotherapy in some occasions. Radiation uses high energy beams to kill
the cancerous cells. Radiation can be applied to either one area or to the
whole body. It is applied to the whole body before bone marrow transplants.
Bone marrow transplants are used in certain patients. The patients bone marrow
is killed by high doses of drugs and radiation. The bone marrow is then
replaced by a donor\'s marrow or the patient\'s marrow that was remove before the
high amounts of drugs and radiation. Biological therapy involves substances
that affect the immune systemís response to the cancer(MedicineNet-leukemia,
1997).
In conclusion, Leukemia can be fatal, but with early diagnosis, proper
treatments, and a lot of luck, it can be put into remission. With treatment
options improving constantly, there may one day be a sure