What is leukaemia? Types of the cancer and its treatment, symptoms and causesNovember 2, 2018
LEUKAEMIA is a type of blood cancer which affects cells in bone marrow and attacks the immune system.
There are a number of types of leukaemia but what are the symptoms and is it treatable?
What causes leukaemia?
In most cases of leukaemia, there is no obvious cause.
It is a cancer which leads to the body making too many abnormal white blood cells and means the body is less likely to be able to defend itself against infection.
These blood cells are not fully developed and are called leukaemia cells.
The disease is often classified as what type of cell is affected (myeloid or lymphatic) and how it progresses (acute or chronic).
What are the symptoms of leukaemia?
There are no specific signs or symptoms which would allow for a doctor to make a diagnosis without lab tests.
In all types of leukaemia symptoms are more commonly caused by a lack of normal blood cells than by the presence of abnormal white cells.
As the bone marrow becomes full of leukaemia cells, it is unable to produce the large numbers of normal blood cells which the body needs.
This can lead to:
- Weakness and tiredness
- More frequent infections
- Bleeding and bruising
What are the different types of leukaemia?
There are four main types of leukaemia.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) – A rapidly progressing form of the disease. More common in children.
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) – Rapidly progressive. More common in adults.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) – Slowly progressing form and more common in adults.
Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) – Progresses slowly and is more common in adults.
Can leukaemia be treated?
Currently there are five ways leukaemia can be treated.
Chemotherapy – These are cell-killing drugs which kill and/or stop them from dividing. Chemotherapy is often given in blocks or cycles of treatment. One cycle of treatment will consist of a series of doses of chemotherapy followed by a break for the healthy cells to recover.
Radiation therapy – This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It is not used to treat all types of leukaemia.
Targeted therapy – Drugs which specifically recognise and kill leukaemia cells.
Biological therapy – A treatment which uses the immune system to destroy leukaemia cells.
Stem cell transplant – Younger patients may be given a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). This may be done using your own healthy stem cells or stem cells from a donor. This is most commonly done for acute leukaemia if chemotherapy does not cure the disease.
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What is the new treatment available on the NHS?
On September 5, 2018, it was announced that a revolutionary cancer treatment that is custom-made for each patient will be made available on the NHS for the first time.
The wonder therapy costs £282,000 per patient and has been shown to cure people in trials who failed to respond to other drugs.
Scientists reprogramme an individual’s immune cells in a lab before putting them back into the body.
The CAR-T cells use their new powers to home-in on the disease and fight it.
The treatment will be made available to patients on the NHS within weeks.