SciTech

Blood cancers such as leukemia cause abnormal cell production

When cancer begins to develop, it usually starts with the malfunction of a single cell. In the case of leukemia, it begins with an abnormal cell in the bone marrow of a patient, which multiplies faster than normal. Leukemia is a form of blood cancer that causes an abnormal production of white blood cells. It is the most prevalent terminal cancer in children, and makes up around 10 percent of all cancers in the United States.

Although the survival rate for leukemia and lymphatic cancers has risen from 14 percent to over 50 percent since the 1960s, children under five diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) have a 90.8 percent chance of survival.

Since leukemia is a blood cancer, it causes an anomalous production of white blood cells called leukemia cells that inhibit the other stem cells from doing their job. Normal bone marrow produces stem cells that develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets — which help form blood clots. Leukemia cells have a longer lifespan and cause anemia, an early sign of leukemia. With a decreased platelet and red and white cell count, patients bruise more easily, experience fatigue faster, and become more susceptible to infections. Doctors do not know the causes of leukemia, but there have been correlations to radiation exposure, typically due to previous chemotherapy dosage.

There are several types of leukemia that are classified according to which kind of white blood cell they affect and how quickly they develop. Chronic leukemia develops over time and sometimes does the work of normal white blood cells, while acute leukemia is more degenerative and worsens in a short amount of time, affecting mostly children. The most common form of leukemia in children is acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of malignant cancer in which white blood cells do not mature and wreak havoc on surrounding cells. According to www.webmd.com, doctors use bone marrow biopsies or lumbar punctures to determine if a patient has leukemia. These procedures involve withdrawing spinal fluid with a syringe and examining cell proteins to see if there is abnormal activity. In ALL, a similar process happens in the body, but the cancer affects lymphocytes instead, which are cells that eventually mature into B and T cells. Causes of ALL have also been traced to prenatal radiation exposure, according to www.medterms.com.

When patients are diagnosed with leukemia, they are first treated with chemotherapy, which involves a combination of drugs and radiation used to kill cancer cells. In cases where radiation and chemotherapy do not work, a bone marrow transplant is needed. This method consists of bone marrow from a donor, usually a close relative or immediate family member, so the donated cells can start to produce normal marrow cells. WebMD states that if this is successful, the marrow cells will take hold after one to three weeks and the patient will need to be in isolation to prevent infection (since the patient has a weakened immune system and no working white blood cells) and blood transfusions.

If all goes well, a patient will be cancer-free after a few weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. However, he or she will be required to have repeat visits to the doctor to ensure proper health quality and immunity. In worst case scenarios, a patient in remission will relapse and have to repeat the treatment all over again, but such cases are rare.
To learn more about leukemia or other blood cancers, visit www.leukemia-lymphoma.org, where one can also donate or participate in a Team in Training walk, a charitable activity that raises money for leukemia research.