Understanding Acute Leukemia

Acute leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It is called acute because it progresses very fast, leading to the creation of immature blood cells instead of mature ones. This type of cancer can affect anyone, but it is common among children. Children also have a higher chance of survival if acute leukemia is detected early, however, the chances of survival are minimal in adults.

Symptoms

  • Bleeding gums
  • Severe nose bleeding
  • Swollen lymph nodes especially on the groin, around the neck, at the abdomen, and underarm.
  • Breathing problems
  • Fatigue, general body weakness, and reduced energy
  • Regular infections

Causes of acute leukemia

Acute leukemia occurs when an error occurs between bone marrow and its DNA. The error makes blood cells to continue growing and diving in an uncontrolled way. The abnormal blood cell production leads to the production of immature cells that now develop into lymphoblast that are leukemic white blood cells. The immature cells are unable to function in the right way, and since their production is in high numbers, they end up crowding out the healthy ones.
What is not clear is what causes DNA mutation. The only positive development in acute leukemia is the fact that it is not inherited.

When you should see a doctor?

When you, your kids, or relatives notice any of the above symptoms or any other symptoms that may worry you, visit a doctor. You must note that most of the symptoms associated with acute leukemia are similar to those of the flu. The only difference is that flu symptoms improve while those of acute leukemia do not. If you notice that your flu signs and symptoms do not improve, seek an appointment with your doctor.

Risk factors to acute leukemia

  • Radiation exposure – People who have previously been exposed to high levels of radiation have a high risk of acute leukemia.
  • Previous cancer case – People who have had previous cancer treatment cases have high chances of developing acute leukemia.
  • Genetic disorders – There are disorders such as Down syndrome that increase the risk of acute leukemia.

Diagnosis of acute Leukemia

Diagnosing acute leukemia involves several procedures such as:
  • Bone marrow test – This procedure includes inserting a needle to take a sample of bone marrow. The sample is then sent to the laboratory for testing to see whether there are leukemia cells.
  • Blood tests – Blood cells are taken to see whether there samples of immature blood cells from the bone marrow.
  • Imaging tests – Other tests such as the computerized tomography can be conducted. However, these are more reliable at advanced stages.
  • Spinal fluid test – Sample fluids can be collected for testing.

Treatment

The treatment of acute leukemia is not as it was 50 years ago. Thanks to technological advancements, there has been a higher survival rate. The main goal of acute leukemia treatment is remission. Once diagnosed, the patient goes through chemotherapy. With acute leukemia affecting the production of blood cells, these patients are given blood, and a lot of platelet transfusion is involved to ensure that bleeding is prevented or stopped. In addition, antibiotics are used to ensure that there are no infections.
Chances of remission are high with acute leukemia patients when chemotherapy is used. To ensure that the disease is contained and is under control, chemotherapy is done for a period of one to four months to ensure that the malignant cells are removed.
Once complete remission is done, some patients with acute leukemia then go through a stem cell transplant. For a case of the stem cell transplant, a donor with similar genes is required. Before a stem cell transplant is conducted, the patient’s white blood cells are controlled through chemotherapy. The patient’s bone marrow that has the leukemia cells is then destroyed before the cells from the donor are infused.
During that infusion process, a patient does not produce white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. This makes him/her have a high possibility of infections or bleeding. The donated cells take between two to six weeks to start functioning properly.

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