Leukemia is a blood cancer caused by the body producing too much abnormal white blood cells. Leukemia 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 change and no longer carry out their role effectively.
Leukemia is often difficult to detect because the symptoms mimic those of other diseases. Early detection needs to be done so that leukemia can be quickly treated.
Characteristics and Symptoms of Leukemia
Initially, leukemia often does not cause signs. New symptoms arise when cancer cells are increasing and begin to attack body cells. Symptoms that appear also vary, depending on the type of leukemia suffered. However, in general, the characteristics of leukemia sufferers are:
- Fever and chills.
- The body feels tired and the feeling of fatigue does not disappear even though it is resting.
- Drastic weight loss.
- Symptoms of anemia.
- Red spots on the skin.
- Bruised body easily.
- Excessive dryness (especially at night).
- Infected easily.
- Lumps appear in the neck due to swollen lymph nodes.
- Stomach feels uncomfortable due to the liver and spleen to swell.
More severe symptoms can be experienced by patients if cancer cells clog the arteries of certain organs. Symptoms that can appear include:
- Great headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle lost control
- Bone pain
When you should see a doctor
Immediately consult a doctor if symptoms appear, such as recurring and prolonged fever or nosebleeds. Symptoms of leukemia often mimic those of other infectious diseases, such as the flu. The examination needs to be done to detect the possibility of early cancer and prevent disease progression.
If you are an active smoker and it’s hard 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 leukemia.
Leukemia treatment requires a long time. Routinely consult with your doctor during treatment, even after completion of treatment. This is done so that the development of the disease is always monitored by a doctor.
Causes of Leukemia
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 leukemia. The risk factors referred to include:
- Have family members who have had leukemia.
- Suffer from genetic disorders, such as Down Syndrome.
- Suffering from blood disorders, such as myelodysplastic syndrome.
- Have a smoking habit.
- Have undergone cancer treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
- Work in environments exposed to chemicals, such as benzene.
Type of Leukemia
Leukemia 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 the symptoms that appear can worsen in a short time. Acute leukemia is more dangerous than chronic leukemia.
Based on the type of white blood cells involved, leukemia is divided into four main types, namely:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) or acute lymphoblastic leukemia occurs when the bone marrow produces too much white blood cells of the type of immature lymphocytes or lymphoblasts.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or chronic lymphocytic leukemia occurs when too much bone marrow produces abnormal lymphocytes and slowly causes cancer.
- Acute myeloblastic leukemia
Acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) or acute myeloblastic leukemia occurs when too much bone marrow produces immature myeloid cells or myeloblasts.
- Chronic myelocytic leukemia
Chronic myelocytic leukemia (CML) or chronic myelocytic leukemia occurs when the bone marrow is unable to produce mature myeloid cells.
In addition to the four types of leukemia above, there are several other types of leukemia that are rare, including:
- Hair cell leukemia (hairy cell leukemia).
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (chronic myelomonocytic leukemia).
- Acute promyelocytic leukemia (promyelocytic acute leukemia).
- Large granular lymphocytic leukemia.
- Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, a type of myelomonocytic leukemia that attacks children under 6 years.
Diagnosis of Leukemia
The doctor will ask about the symptoms experienced by the patient and do a physical examination. Through physical examination, doctors can detect signs of leukemia that appear, such as bruises on the skin, pale skin due to anemia, and swollen lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.
However, the diagnosis of leukemia can not be confirmed only by physical examination. Therefore, the doctor will conduct further tests to confirm the diagnosis and the type of leukemia experienced by the patient. Types of checks carried out include:
A complete blood count test is performed to determine the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Doctors can suspect patients suffering from leukemia if the number of red blood cells or platelets is low and the shape of the blood cells is not normal.
Bone marrow aspiration
The procedure for bone marrow aspiration is done through sampling bone marrow tissue from the hip bone using long and thin needles. This sample is then examined in a laboratory to detect cancer cells.
In addition to the diagnostic tests above, the doctor will also carry out further examinations 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 of leukemia and the patient’s overall condition. Here are some treatment methods to treat leukemia:
- Chemotherapy, which is a method of treatment using drugs to kill cancer cells. The drug can be in the form of drinking tablets or injectable infusions.
- Immune therapy or immunotherapy, which is the administration of drugs to boost the immune system and help the body fight cancer cells. Types of drugs used, for example interferon.
- Target therapy, which is the use of drugs to inhibit the production of proteins used by cancer cells to develop. Examples of types of drugs that can be used are protein kinase inhibitors, such as imatinib.
- Radiotherapy, which is a treatment method to destroy and stop the growth of cancer cells by using high-energy radiation rays.
- Bone marrow transplantation, which is 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 of leukemia experienced by patients.
Complications of Leukemia
Leukemia can cause complications if 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 treatment. 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 (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 treatment. The types of complications that can occur include central nervous system disorders, growth and development disorders, and cataracts.
Prevention of Leukemia
There is no effective way to prevent leukemia until now. However, there are several ways you can do to reduce your risk of leukemia, 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.