Leukaemia, also known as blood cancer, starts in the bone marrow when excessive production of abnormal white blood cells develops that attacks the body’s immunity system. The signs and symptoms of Leukaemia are pale skin, easy bruising, enlarged liver, fever, mouth or tonsil sores, diarrhoea, pneumonia, etc. Diagnosis of Leukaemia includes blood tests, lymph node biopsy, bone marrow examination, etc.
Stem cell (also called bone marrow) is a spongy substance that produces three types of blood cells- red blood corpuscles, white blood corpuscles and platelets. Leukaemia arises in the bone marrow when there is a huge production of abnormal white blood cells. These white blood cells do not fully develop and are called leukaemia cells or blasts.
Leukaemia types are divided into four categories:
Acute leukaemia and chronic leukaemia can be treated and managed, while the former can be cured through bone marrow transplants in younger and fitter patients, the latter cannot be cured even with standard treatments.
What causes the blood cells to act eerily and produce abnormal white blood cells is still unknown. Although, the exact cause of leukaemia is still not known, there are a few risk factors of leukaemia that can help you become cautious beforehand:
The common symptoms of leukaemia include anaemia, shortness of breath, weakness, palpitations, light-headedness, frequent infections that are severe, fever, sweat, malaise (feeling of illness), bruises in the skin, nosebleeds, heavy periods, pain in joints and bones, bleeding gums, etc.
Although the signs and symptoms of leukaemia may help an oncologist determine whether a person has the disease or not, a laboratory test helps confirm the results. Diagnosis of leukaemia is done by taking a bone marrow sample from the patient.
After the skin is numbed with anaesthesia, a needle is placed inside to withdraw liquid bone marrow which is sent to the laboratory for testing. Additional tests like X-rays are done to look for swollen lymph nodes. Several blood tests are done to investigate more. Staging of leukaemia cannot be specifically determined, since the disease spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream.
Treatment of leukaemia may vary. Some Leukaemia patients may not get any treatment initially, since they are kept under observation and monitoring to evaluate their condition. Regular check-ups and assessment helps these patients to get well gradually without requiring any treatment at all.
Patients with acute leukaemia can eventually receive a cure, but those with chronic leukaemia may not get cured, but their condition is treatable. Sometimes, the disease may come back (called relapse) which is treated with standard treatments. The types of treatments for leukaemia are:
Before leukaemia treatment, get yourself ready with a few preparations that have been given below.
The stem cell is then collected by using a stem cell separator machine by segregating blood from the stem cells. While the blood is returned to you through another arm, the stem cells are stored, frozen and thawed. The same procedure is followed in case of allogeneic stem cell transplant, with the only difference that stem cells are collected from a matching donor.
Have a look at the treatment options and the performance procedure of each:
Autologous BMT- On the day of transplant, a central nervous catheter is placed in your chest through which your own stem cells (previously collected and stored) are given into you.
Allogeneic BMT- The procedure is the same like autologous stem cell transplant. The collected and stored stem cells from a matching donor are inserted through a central line in the chest of the patient.
Post treatment, several appointments are required with your doctor to help you get better quickly. Normally, after a full course of leukaemia treatment, it takes over several months to help your immune system to get back to normal. The recovery of Leukaemia treatment may take time, but during the recovery period you are vulnerable to infections, bleeding and bruising. Visit your doctor for follow-up appointments to evaluate your progress of healing.