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Leukemia: the Definition and Treatment


Leukemia is an abnormality in the growth of white blood cells. Normally, cancer develops into different kinds of blood cells resulting in the classification of the disease. Types of leukemia range from acute lymphocytic leukemia to chronic myelocytic leukemia. Several methods have been applied in the diagnosis of leukemia. The most common symptoms include pale appearances, fevers, bleeding, persistent infections, enlarged lymph nodes, distended liver or spleen and fatigue. Possible risk factors that may expose someone to this disease include exposure to radiation, family history of leukemia or genetic disorders. The main treatment is usually chemotherapy.

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Leukemia can be described as a malignant progressive disease in which blood forms excess immature or abnormal white cells (Elhefni, 2013). The abnormal formation of the blood cells results in acute or chronic leukemia. However, the purpose of the white cells is to provide a defense system for the body. Besides, the main duty of white blood cells is to provide the body with immunity against any invasion from viruses and bacteria. White blood cells are normally manufactured within the malleable central part of the bone marrow. Under the circumstances that the white blood cells functions insufficiently, the body is exposed to several risks and may easily get infections. In acute cases, particularly when the white blood cells are numerous, the white blood cells become involved in the destruction of other body cells. Under such circumstances, white blood cells affect the normal functioning of the body such as the circulation of oxygen and the bleeding control, which are the duties of the red blood cells and platelets (Elhefni, 2013).

Types of Leukemia

The cancerous white blood cells are normally categorized into two main groups depending on the severity of the abnormality. Acute leukemia is characterized by its rapid development and spread within the circulatory system. On the other hand, chronic leukemia is characterized by slow progressions, which provide increased chances for the white blood cells to become mature thereby reducing their severity. In other words, acute leukemia does not provide chances for the body to recover compared with chronic leukemia (Chiorazzi, Rai & Ferrarini, 2005).

Further, leukemia can be classified depending on the affected part of the born marrow. In the circumstances that the abnormality develops on the part of the born marrow that manufacture white blood cells lymphocytic leukemia occurs. On other hand, when the cancerous cells develop in the part of the born marrow where red blood cells and platelets develop Myelogenous leukemia results (Bain, 2010).

From the divisions, it is apparent that there are four kinds of leukemia. Among the four types, acute lymphocytic leukemia is widespread within the human population. The abnormality is caused by the uncontrolled production of increased immature lymphocytes. The increased number of abnormal lymphocytes also causes atypical production of other blood cells such as platelets and red blood (Bain, 2010). However, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is most common in people older than 55 years (Burger & Peled, 2009). Besides, the abnormality is popular among men compared with women. Further, the condition develops at a slower rate and gradually the cancerous leukemic cells outgrow the healthy cells in several tissues.

Acute myelogenous leukemia usually occurs due to the uncontrolled production of a type of white cells called myelocytes. The process affects the functioning red blood cells, platelets and the normal white cells (Chiorazzi et al., 2005). The type of leukemia is common in adults. Finally, chronic myelogenous leukemia develops slower than the acute type and has minimal interference in the development of other cells. The chance of developing this type of leukemia increases with age (Burger & Peled, 2009).

Causes of Leukemia

The precise origin of the condition remains vague to scientists. However, scientists have identified risk factors associated with the development and growth of the condition. According to various studies that have been conducted on the disease, genetic factors have been identified as the leading cause of the disease. Children born with Down syndrome or any other rare gene changes are more prone to acute leukemia. Other factors include previous treatments or exposure to radioactive agents or chemicals. Any history of leukemia in the family can also be a factor (Burger & Peled, 2009).

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Symptoms of Leukemia

The most common sign of the disease is excess bleeding. Excess bleeding occurs due to malfunctioning of the platelets whose primary duty is to stop bleeding. Slight venous cuts can become severe in the circumstances that an individual develops the condition. In fact, other symptoms of the disease include tiny red spots under the skin (Ladetto, 2010). However, the disease can spread into the immune system of the individual. The infection of the immune system is brought about by the suppression of white blood cells causing their malfunction. The white cells have the responsibility of defending the body against any infections from microbes and viruses (Ladetto, 2010).

Austen, Skowronska, Baker, Powell, Gardiner, Oscier, Majid, Dyer, Siebert, Taylor, Moss and Stankovic (2007) observed that the disease accumulates in lymph nodes and other important organs such as the spleen resulting in enlargements of these organs. Patients normally feel pain particularly on the right abdomen where the spleen is situated. The other effects of the enlargement are the decreased ingestion of highly solid foods. Other symptoms of the chronic phase of the disease include fever, chills, flu, tiredness and night sweats (Austen et al., 2007).

In the circumstances that the abnormal white blood cells have accumulated in the nervous system, the result is nausea and vomiting. Besides, skin cancer may develop in situations when abnormal cells accumulate in the skin. A reduction in the number of red cells also causes the skin to look pale and results in the feeling of fatigue while the individual may experience short breaths (Austen et al., 2007).

In most cases, each type of leukemia has different symptoms. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia for instance is usually characterized by loss of appetite, joint pains, short breaths, lumps in the neck, under the arm or groin, easy bleeding when bruised, tiredness and fevers. In addition, the patient may similarly have skin lesions known as leukemia cutis. The skin lesions are caused by the accumulation of several leukemic cells into the patient’s skin. The symptoms may appear before an individual is diagnosed with blood cancer (Ladetto, 2010).

Diagnosis for Leukemia

The diagnosis of the disease normally involves examining the type of blood cells and their formation in the born marrow. In the circumstances that the abnormal white cells are identified, the individual is likely to develop the disease. However, the acuteness of the disease depends on the number of abnormal white cells in the blood. Normally, medics perform advanced tests for the identification of abnormal cells. Such tests include cytogenetic analysis and flow cytometry. Moreover, the specific determination of leukemia helps the doctors to come up with the specific appropriate treatment (Burger & Peled, 2009).

Treatment of Leukemia

Various kinds of leukemia have different treatments methods. However, therapies are often prescribed according to the age and wellbeing account of the patient. Patients diagnosed with acute leukemia are required to start early medication. Such patients are provided with chemotherapy. Besides, the patients are often transfused with platelets to help in preventing as well as help in stopping bleeding since their levels of healthy blood cells are low. Antibiotics are also administered to help in the prevention and treatment of infections. However, remission occurs in some cases when acute leukemia patients are given primary treatment for acute leukemia. Under such situations, medics give consolidation chemotherapy to kill any remaining malignant cells for a period of one to four months (Austen et al., 2007).

Intermittent treatment is usually given for a period totaling two years for acute lymphocytic leukemia patients. An allogeneic stem cell transplant is also given to acute myeloid leukemia patients. The transplant is usually done after the patient has been provided with complete remission. The process of stem cell transplant takes three stages ranging from induction to transplanting. Chemotherapy is applied to further reduce the number of abnormal white blood cells. In most cases, a single dose of chemotherapy is followed by increased doses of chemotherapy (Austen et al., 2007).

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Leukemia is a disease that has affected the lives of many people across the globe. Researches show various types of leukemia with different treatment methods. However, all leukemia types are treated mainly through chemotherapy. Surgery is not applied for leukemia since the condition does not have solid tumors. Powerful drugs aimed to divide the cells are often used in chemotherapy. The drugs interfere with the normal functioning of critical parts of the cell. In the process, a good number of normal cells are damaged. However, increased numbers of cancerous cells are damaged since the cells usually multiply at higher rates. Chemotherapy can be done orally, through the veins and injections into the cerebrospinal fluid.


Austen, B., Skowronska, A., Baker, C., Powell, J. E., Gardiner, A., Oscier, D., Majid, A., Dyer, M., Siebert, R., Taylor, A. M., Moss, P. A., & Stankovic, T. (2007). The mutation status of the residual ATM allele is an important determinant of the cellular response to chemotherapy and survival in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia containing an 11q deletion. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 25(4), 5448–5457.

Bain, B. J. (2010). Leukemia diagnosis. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Burger, J. A. & Peled, A. (2009). CXCR4 antagonists: targeting the microenvironment in leukemia and other cancers. Leukemia, 23(6), 43–52.

Chiorazzi, N., Rai, K. R., & Ferrarini, M. (2005). Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. New England Journal of Medicine, 352(16), 804815.

Elhefni, A. M. (2013). Tailoring of chronic lymphatic leukemia therapy. American Journal of Blood Research, 3(3), 201-209.

Ladetto, M. (2010). Telomere disrupts CLL progresses. Blood, 116(6), 1821–1822.

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