The five-year survival rate for Leukemia is 67%. The chances for survival are higher among younger patients.



Q:What is Leukemia?


Dr:Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow which is the soft inner part of the bones where new blood cells are made. This is why it quickly spreads into the blood and travels to all parts of the body. A person develops leukemia when the bone marrow makes too many blood cells, and they are abnormal. These are more common in childhood and older age and less common in adolescent and adults.


Q:What are the two broad types of Leukemia?


Dr:The abnormal or cancerous cells are white blood cells. Two types of WBCs can turn into leukemia. The lymphoid cells can lead to Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (also known as Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. The myeloid cells can lead to Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Both chronic types of leukemia are more common in adults, Acute Myeloid Leukemia occurs in adults and children while Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most common type of leukemia in children.


Q:What is the difference between Chronic and Acute Leukemia?


Dr:Chronic Leukemia and Acute Leukemia interfere with the growth and development of blood stems cells. However, the condition progresses rapidly in the case of Acute Leukemia with severe symptoms. In the case of Chronic Leukemia the disease progress very slowly and the symptoms are not severe.


Q:What are the symptoms of Leukemia?


Dr:Symptoms of Acute Leukemia are:

  • – Fatigue
  • – Unintended weight loss
  • – Pale skin caused by anaemia
  • – Tiny red spots under the skin
  • – Easy bruising and bleeding
  • – Wounds that do not heal easily
  • – Frequent infections that resist treatment
  • – Fever
  • – Shortness of breath
  • – Bone and joint pain

Symptoms of Chronic Leukemia:

  • – Lumps in the necks, armpits or groin
  • – Enlarged liver/ spleen causing pain and bloating of the stomach
  • – Fever, chills and night sweats
  • – Extreme Fatigue

Q:What are the symptoms of Leukemia in children?


Dr:Some of the early warning signs of Leukemia include:

  • – Severe nosebleeds
  • – Frequent infections and flu-like symptoms
  • – Persistent bruises
  • – Frequent headaches
  • – Dizziness, lethargy and weakness
  • – Abdominal Swelling
  • – Bone and Joint Pain
  • – Loss of weight

If your child experiences any of these symptoms frequently he/she needs to see the paediatrician immediately.


Q:What is the survival rate for Leukemia?


Dr:The five-year survival rate for Leukemia is 67%. The chances for survival are higher among younger patients.


Q:Can Leukemia be prevented? What are the risk factors for Leukemia?


Dr:Leukemia cannot be prevented, however, there are certain factors that increase one’s risk of the disease. Some of these factors are:

  • – Smoking, which is linked with acute myeloid leukemia.
  • – Prolonged exposure to chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde.
  • – Radiation exposure is also a known cause of leukemia.
  • – Genetic disorders like Down Syndrome increase the risk of developing leukemia.

Q:How is Leukemia diagnosed and treated?


Dr:If a person is suspected to have leukemia the doctor will prescribe one or more of the following investigative tests:

  • – Bone marrow biopsy
  • – Blood tests to check for abnormal levels in RBCs, WBCs, or Platelets.
  • – Physical Examination to check for anaemia, swelling of the lymph nodes and enlarged liver and spleen.

Q:How is Leukemia treated?


Dr:Leukemia or blood cancer treatment includes one or more of the following procedures:

  • – Bone Marrow Transplant to replace unhealthy stem cells with healthy ones.
  • – Chemotherapy that uses drugs to attack and destroy leukemia cells.
  • – Radiation Therapy uses x-rays to kill cancerous cells.
  • – Immunotherapy that boosts your immune system such that it attacks the cancerous cells
  • – Surgery is used in rare cases where leukemia cells have caused the spleen to swell. The doctor will perform a splenectomy to remove the spleen.

Q:What is Relapse ALL and Refractory ALL?


Dr:Residual leukemia cells in the bone marrow despite intensive treatment is called Refractory ALL (Acute lymphoblastic leukemia). The return of leukemia cells in the bone marrow after the patient achieved remission is called Relapsed ALL. Treating the relapsed/ refractory disease is more complicated. The five-year survival rate for adults who developed relapsed ALL is poor and put down to just 10%. Children have a five-year survival rate of 50% after the first relapse. In order to be able to treat the relapsed disease better, it needs to be identified and diagnosed earlier on. This is the reason patients must keep follow-up appointments with the oncologist even after remission.


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