Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood, as a result of abnormal white blood cell division. These white blood cells do not carry out their normal function and they often look different than normal white blood cells. The cancer originates from the bone marrow, where white blood cells are created by stem cells through differentiation. There are two main types of cells that are affected in Leukaemia, they can be lymphocytes or myeloid cells. They differ in function in that lymphocytes defend the body against viruses, whereas the myeloid cells defend our body against bacteria and parasites.
A DNA mutation in the stem cells of the bone marrow, is the main causes of leukaemia. As stem cells divide very quickly, if a DNA mutation has happened in one of the white blood cells being made in the bone marrow this can then cause all the white blood cells to have the same DNA mutation, these mutations differ the functions of the white blood cells, so they do not do there job properly and are made in abnormally high amounts. Therefore leukaemia can be diagnosed by a blood test comparing the number of white blood cells to the other cells found in the blood. This increase in white blood cells means that the count of red blood cells and platelets will decrease, resulting in less oxygen being carried around the body and causing symptoms such as tiredness, and also because of the low platelet count, cuts and wounds will not heal as quickly. The cause of the DNA mutation in the stem cells to this day is not fully understood.
As leukaemia can affect two different types of white blood cells, leukaemia can be separated into two groups. Also, the progressiveness of the cancer can be diagnosed, so the leukaemia can be classed as acute or chronic, which is less progressive than acute.
Therefore leukaemia can be classed into four different groups:
- Acute myelogenous leukaemia
- Chronic myelogenous leukaemia
- Acute lymphocytic leukaemia
- Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
There are a variety of ways that leukaemia can be treated, the most common and most effective way being chemotherapy.
There are three main types:
- Chemotherapy- this aims to slow down the growth or even stop the growth of cancerous cells, however, this can result in normal healthy cells being affected too.
- Radiotherapy - this aims to use radiation beams to kill all the cancerous cells, or even all the bone marrow, so that a new bone marrow can be transplanted.
- Bone Marrow Transplant- when a donor match is found, bone marrow can be inserted into the patient to try and activate the growth of healthy and unaffected white blood cells.
Everyday experiments are taking place to try to find different treatments or to improve the efficacy of the current treatments. Survival rates have increased dramatically in the last ten years, especially in children/young adults.
- ↑ Standford Medicine Institute of Cancer (2012) Information about Leukaemia. Available at http://cancer.stanford.edu/blood/leukemias/ (Last accessed 29/11/12)
- ↑ NHS (2012) Leukaemia, acute myeloid. Available at http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Leukaemia-acute/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Last accessed 29/11/12)
- ↑ NHS (2012) Leukaemia, acute myeloid-causes. Available at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Leukaemia-acute/Pages/Causes.aspx (Last accessed 29/11/12)
- ↑ Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute (2012) Information About Leukaemia. Available at http://cancer.stanford.edu/blood/leukemias/(last accessed 29/11/12)
- ↑ Choices NH. Haemochromatosis.