What is Leukemia?
Leukaemia is a kind of blood cancer that impairs white blood cells in the body. White blood cells help fight infections and guard the body against diseases. But in leukaemia, some white blood cells are converted to cancerous cells and start functioning inappropriately. When there is a formation of more and more cancer cells in the bone marrow and blood, there is less room for healthy cells. Leukaemia may affect red blood cells too.
Leukaemia can be chronic (slow-growing) or acute (fast-growing).
What is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)?
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is a blood cancer or malignant disease characterized by the rapid uncontrolled growth of immature, abnormal lymphoblasts. It occurs when your body allows a large number of lymphoblasts (a type of white blood cell). It is one of the most common types of cancer seen during the childhood period. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) can affect different types of lymphocytes (T-cells or B-cells).
What are the Causes and Risks of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?
The causes of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) are not yet clearly known. However, some factors may increase the risk of developing it.
Genetic conditions: Some of the inherited diseases such as Down’s syndrome, Ataxia Telangiectasia, and Fanconi Anemia can increase the risk of developing Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Past chemotherapy: People who are treated with chemotherapy drugs have chances of developing Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Weakened immunity: People with HIV+/ AIDS or people with lower immunity has a chance of developing leukaemia.
What are the Signs of Childhood ALL?
The common symptoms of childhood ALL include:
- A feeling of being very tired, pale, or weak
- Night Sweats
- Belly pain, as cancerous blood cells build up in organs such as liver, kidneys, and spleen
- Infections such as tonsillitis or bronchitis that keep coming back
- Joint and bone pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Petechiae or easy bruising (tiny red spots on the skin due to easy bleeding)
Factors that may increase the risk of acute lymphocytic leukaemia include:
Previous cancer treatment.
Children and adults who’ve had certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other kinds of cancer may have an increased risk of developing acute lymphocytic leukaemia.
Exposure to radiation.
People exposed to very high levels of radiation, such as survivors of a nuclear reactor accident, have an increased risk of developing acute lymphocytic leukaemia.
Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukaemia.
Having a brother or sister with ALL.
People who have a sibling, including a twin, with acute lymphocytic leukaemia, have an increased risk of AL
How is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia diagnosed?
To diagnose Leukemia, doctors recommend the following tests:
Blood tests including a complete blood count, blood chemistries, and kidney and liver function panels can provide essential details regarding the number of healthy blood cells and how good the organs are functioning. The sizes and shapes of the blood cells are examined with the help of a microscope.
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
A small hollow needle is used to remove a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid and then tests are performed on it in the lab.
Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
A needle is used to put into a large bone, usually the hip to remove a small amount of bone marrow and perform the test.
Flow cytometry tests
The doctors survey the cancerous cells and find out the type and subtype of ALL to implement a reliable treatment.
They may involve a CT scan, X-rays, ultrasound, or MRI. These can help in determining a mass of leukaemia cells in the chest that may affect your blood circulation or breathing.
The doctors examine the changes in the genes by looking at the bone marrow or blood to figure out the best treatment.
How is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treated?
Chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancer cells, is typically used as induction therapy for acute lymphocytic leukaemia. Chemotherapy drugs can also be used in the consolidation and maintenance phases.
- Chemo can be given:
- Through a vein
- By mouth in the form of pills
- Injecting into a muscle
Targeted drugs attack specific abnormalities present in cancer cells that help them grow and thrive.
A certain abnormality called the Philadelphia chromosome is found in some people with acute lymphocytic leukaemia. For these people, targeted drugs may be used to attack cells that contain that abnormality. Targeted therapy may be used during or after chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. If the cancer cells have spread to the central nervous system, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy.
Bone marrow transplant.
A bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, may be used as consolidation therapy in people at high risk of relapse or for treating relapse when it occurs. This procedure allows someone with leukaemia to re-establish healthy bone marrow by replacing leukemic bone marrow with leukaemia-free marrow from a healthy person.
A bone marrow transplant begins with high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to destroy any leukaemia-producing bone marrow. The marrow is then replaced by bone marrow from a compatible donor (allogeneic transplant).
Can Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia be prevented?
It’s highly impossible to prevent things that cause acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The research explores the possibility that some environmental issues can put the child at risk for ALL. Exposure to prenatal radiation, such as X-rays, can cause ALL in an unborn baby. Pregnant women and those who think they may be pregnant should tell their doctors before conducting medical procedures or tests involving radiation.