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Acute leukaemia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About acute leukaemia

Leukaemia is a serious cancerous condition of the blood, characterised by increased production of abnormal blood cells. It is rapidly progressive and may lead to life-threatening consequences, if left untreated. There are two kinds of leukaemia, namely acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia - depending on the specific type of the blood cells inflicted by the malignant condition.

Acute leukaemia: Incidence, age and sex

Acute leukaemia can occur at any age. The incidence of occurrence in children and adults depends upon the type of acute leukaemia. While, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is more common in children than adults, there seems to be no definite gender bias. Likewise acute myeloid leukaemia is a far more common occurrence in the adult population than in children. In fact, men are more likely to be afflicted than women.

Signs and symptoms of acute leukaemia: Diagnosis

The distinctive signs and symptoms are seen due to reduced number of normal blood cells and increased number of abnormal cells. A patient may complain of fatigue and loss of appetite which is due to the decrease in number of red blood cells. Reduced platelets may cause an increased likelihood of bleeding from small wounds and bleeding from nose and gums. Pin point red spots under the skin may be an occasional occurrence. The body is unable to fight against infectious agents like bacteria and virus, due to reduced white blood cells, thus leading to increased chances of infections. Fever, sweating at night, bone pain, joint pain and headache are some other clinical features. An examination may find an increase in the size of the liver, the spleen and the lymph nodes, which is usually due to the collection of abnormal blood cells.

Causes and prevention of acute leukaemia

There are three kinds of blood cells namely red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets which are produced in the bone marrow which is a part of the bone. Normally these cells are released from the bone marrow into the blood stream where they carry out their functions. In leukaemia, the normal production of the white blood cells is hampered. Enormous number of abnormal white blood cells are produced in rapid progression and released into the blood stream. These abnormal cells are immature and unable to carry out their function of fighting infections in the body. Not only this, large number of these abnormal, cancerous cells crowd out the normal red blood cells and the platelets, leading to typical clinical features.

Several research studies have concluded that that there seem to be some factors which might trigger the cancerous production of blood cells. Such factors include exposure to radiation, toxic materials like benzene and genetic factors. The foetus in a pregnant woman, if exposed to X-ray radiations might stand at risk of leukaemia in future. These factors are mere assumptions based on research studies and at present, no definite cause can be attributed to leukaemia.

Acute leukaemia: Complications

The complications of acute leukaemia can be life-threatening bleeding or severe infections which may result in prolonged hospitalisation or in rare instances, death. Moreover the abnormal blood cells may spread to the brain, signifying a poor prognosis.

Acute leukaemia: Treatment

The doctor may advise some blood tests and bone marrow aspiration, to confirm the diagnosis. The blood test may reveal a reduced number of normal blood cells and an enormous amount of abnormal cells in the bone marrow, in a patient with leukaemia. Acute leukaemia is curable in most cases. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has far better prognosis and survival rate than Acute myeloid leukaemia.

The treatment modalities include chemotherapy which helps in killing the abnormal cells. Radiotherapy is indicated when the malignancy has spread to the brain and spinal cord. Regular blood transfusions may be needed to prevent anaemia and bleeding. Concurrently occurring infections need to be treated with appropriate medication. The best available treatment for acute leukaemia is replacing the affected bone marrow with a healthy one. Since it is a surgical procedure, it carries some risk. Stem cell transplant, one of the latest advancements, may also be considered.