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Leukemia - the White Blood Disease

Aug 12, 2008
INTRODUCTION: Leukemia means white blood. It is found in the bone marrow or blood and is characterized by an abnormal growth of blood cells, typically white blood cells (leukocytes)and is separated into its acute and chronic forms.

It affects the digestive tract, lungs, Kidneys or other parts of the body and can also collect in the testicles causing edema and swelling. It is one of the most common cancers of children, although it isn't just a children's disease, as many people think.

It is newly diagnosed in about 29,000 adults and 2000 children every year in the US and has four primary types plus many sub-types of which only some of them are common in children.

Leukemia that has spread to the brain may produce central nervous system effects, such as headaches, seizures, weakness, blurred vision, balance difficulties, or vomiting and the disease, or the chemotherapy used to treat it, can cause anemia.

ACUTE LEUKEMIA: Acute leukemia is characterized by the rapid increase of immature blood cells, and is a potentially curable disease; However only a small number of patients are cured with current therapy. It begins with one or a few white blood cells that have a lost or damaged DNA sequence and gets worse very fast and may make you feel sick right away.

Leukemia tends to develop suddenly and quickly, however some chronic types may exist for many years before they are even diagnosed. Immediate treatment is required due to the rapid growth and accumulation of these malignant cells, which then can spill over into the blood stream and spread to other organs.

Whereas acute leukemia must be treated immediately, chronic forms are sometimes monitored for some time before treatment to ensure maximum effectiveness of therapy.

CHRONIC LEUKEMIA: Chronic leukemia is recognized by excessive build up of relatively mature, but still abnormal, blood cells and can go undetected for many years until it is identified in a routine blood test. It is more common between the ages of 40 and 70 and rarely occurs among young people.

It tends to gets worse slowly and may not cause symptoms for years. Like many other cancers, it is a disease of old age. Doctors often find chronic leukemia during a routine checkup, before there are any noticeable symptoms. In adults, the acute forms occur in those of all ages, whereas the chronic varieties tend to occur in people older than 40 years. Although slow-growing chronic leukemia may also be seen in children, it is very rare, accounting for fewer than 50 cases in children each year in the United States.

TREATMENT: Treatment for leukemia is complex and it depends largely on your age and health, the type and how far it has metastasize or spread. Treatment is generally considered necessary when the patient shows signs and symptoms such as low blood cell numbers. Generally speaking, all treatment is divided into several different phases. In children, an intensive 6-month treatment program is needed after induction, followed by 2 years of chemotherapy.

For children with low-risk, standard therapy usually consists of three drugs (prednisone, L-asparaginase, and vincristine) for the first month of treatment. High-risk patients receive higher drug doses plus treatment with extra chemotherapeutic agents. Follow-up therapy for ALL patients usually consists of: supportive care, such as intravenous nutrition and treatment with oral antibiotics.

In general, the indications for treatment are: falling hemoglobin or platelet count, progression to a later stage of disease, painful, disease-related overgrowth of lymph nodes or spleen, lymphocyte doubling time (an indicator of lymphocyte reproduction) of fewer than 12 months. Overall, the strategy is to control bone marrow and systemic (whole-body) disease while offering specific treatment for the central nervous system (CNS), if necessary. Consolidation or "maintenance" treatments may be given to prevent disease recurrence once remission has been achieved. Whatever the plan, it is important for the patient to understand the treatment that is being given and the reasons behind the choice.

CONCLUSION: Leukemia is a cancer of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. These cells crowd out other types of blood cells produced by the bone marrow, including red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissues throughout your body, and platelets, which help form blood clots.

Leukemia cells can spread to the lymph nodes causing swelling and or pain and can also accumulate in the kidneys, liver and spleen, causing these organs to enlarge. The cells also can affect the lungs and other parts of the body. Acute forms occur in both children as well as young adults. Chronic forms usually occurs in older people, but theoretically can occur at any age.

To date there is no single known cause for all of the different types of leukemia. Studies have linked exposure to chemicals, such as benzene, and hair dyes to the development of some forms of the disease. Viruses have been linked to other forms. Until the cause or causes are discovered, there is no known way to prevent the occurrence of Leukemia. As of 1998, it is estimated that each year, approximately 30,800 individuals will be diagnosed with Leukemia in the United States and 21,700 persons will die of the disease.
About the Author
Richard H. Ealom is an expert ezinearticles.com author and has written many articles on diseases,causes,cures and author of this article. To find out more about Cancer please visit "Cancer Breakthrough USA!"
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