What is Leukemia?
According to the National Cancer Institute, one in 72 people will be diagnosed with leukemia in their lifetime. Leukemia is a cancer that interrupts the normal production of blood cells. The bone marrow creates abnormal white blood cells which are then referred to as “leukemia cells.” They have a longer than average life span which reduces the space available in the body for normal blood cells. This crowding issues not only affects the body’s ability to maintain a healthy level of white blood cells but red and platelets as well. With less space available healthy blood cells are limited and unable to function properly.
Though there are several leukemia types, the four most common are: Chronic Lymphocytic (CLL), Chronic Myelogenous (CML), Acute Myelogenous (AML), and Acute lymphoblastic (ALL). These types are grouped with consideration for what blood cells are affected and how fast the disease progresses. Lymphocytic types affect the white blood cells (lymphocytes), while myelogenous types affect the myelocyte white blood cells. Whether the disease is acute or chronic is a measure of how fast it worsens. Acute leukemia progresses rapidly causing symptoms to appear quickly. The chronic types are slower to worsen and the symptoms may take years to appear.
When a treatment plan is developed medical professionals take a variety of factors into consideration. These include: age of patient, overall health, type of leukemia, and the progression of the disease. New treatment options are research and developed in an ongoing effort to improve the survival rate for leukemia patients. At this time the most common leukemia treatment options are: chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and donor lymphocyte infusion.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses medications to battle cancer cells in the body. They are either targeted to kill the cells or reduce their ability to divide and spread. The medications can be taken orally or injected. This option is common because the availability of specialized medicines continue to improve. It also is helpful for treating patients whose leukemia has spread, allowing the medications to reach other areas of the body through the bloodstream.
As a contrast to chemotherapy, immotherapy is designed to target only the leukemia cells. This leaves healthy cells in the body to continue fighting off illness. They are also medications and may be administered in conjunction with chemotherapy or other leukemia treatment options.
Radiation is a highly targeted treatment option. It uses radiation administered by machines directly to the site of the leukemia. Radiation medicine continues to advance offering the ability to shrink and kill cancer cells while leaving the body able to fight illness. It is commonly used in conjuncton with other types of treatment.
Stem Cell Transplantation
During a stem cell transplantation, doctors transfer stem cells that are able to form healthy blood cells into a patient’s body. There are two types of transplant: allogeneic and autologous. Allogenic stem cell transplant uses cells from a matching donor. The autologous transplants use stem cells from the patient which are removed, stored, and given back after other forms of treatment are used. In preparation for a transplant patients commonly undergo one or more of the other leukemia treatment options. This conditions the body to receive healthy cells by reducing the amount of leukemia cells in the body.
Leukemia treatment plans are highly specialized and created by medical professionals only after obtaining detailed health information. These plans involve more than one doctor and include a support team of medical staff to improve the success of the treatments. The National Cancer Institute reports that the five year survival rate for leukemia patients is 56 percent. The continued efforts to innovate and improve leukemia treatment options available seek to raise that percentage for future patients.
By: Karla Hoffman