10 leukaemia facts

Today is World Leukaemia Day, we bring you some quick facts about this disease.

  • Each year, 35 people in every million will learn that they have leukaemia of whom five will be children.
  • Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells. It starts from a single mature cell that becomes abnormal. Over time several changes take place in that cell before it becomes malignant. Once malignant, the cells keep producing large numbers of malignant daughter cells.
  • Leukaemia is grouped according to the speed it develops. Acute leukaemias develop fast while chronic leukaemias develop more slowly
  • There are four main groups of leukaemia: Acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common in children, although it also affects adults.  Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) occurs in both adults and children. Chronic lymphytcotic leukaemia mostly affects adults over the age of 55 - it also sometimes occurs in younger adults, but never affects children.  Although chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) occurs mainly in adults, a very small number of children also develop this disease.
  • When leukaemia develops the leukaemia cells take over the bone marrow and prevent the normal formation of different blood cells. They affect the normal three line cells and their functions.
  • Leukaemia cells are abnormal cells that cannot do what normal blood cells do. They cannot help the body fight infections.  They also crowd out the normal blood-forming cells. As a result, there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, so patients become tried and pale, and there are not enough platelets to stop bleeding and bruising.
  • In acute leukaemia symptoms develop quickly, while in chronic leukaemia symptoms may not appear for a long time - when they do appear they are generally mild at first and gradually get worse.
  • Common symptoms of leukaemia are fever, chills, sore throat, weakness and fatigue, frequent infections, loss of appetite, swollen or tender lymph nodes, easy bleeding or bruising, tiny red spots under the skin, swollen or bleeding gums, sweating especially at night and bone or join pain.
  • Diagnosis relies on a good medical history, a physical examination and special tests. Blood tests are very important in the diagnosis of leukaemia. To check for further for leukaemia cells or to tell what type of leukaemia a patient has, a haematologist, oncologist or pathologist performs a bone marrow biopsy.
  • Treatment is complex, varies with the type of leukaemia and is not the same for every patient. Treatment usually includes chemotherapy - sometimes with radiotherapy and sometimes with biological therapy. Bone marrow transplantation is usually used only when there is a good response to an initial therapy.

In support of World Leukaemia Day, Bespoke Communications will embark on national awareness campaign.


(Health24, September 2010)

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