Blood Cancers - Leukemia

Updated: Sep 10, 2021



In our blogs for September we have decided to look at two different kinds of cancer, explore what we can find out about them on the Internet and summarise our research here.


First up is the so-called ‘cancer of the blood’, Leukemia.


Before we dive into the specifics of Leukemia (and later this month “Lymphoma”) however, we need to explore and try to explain what we understand as “cancer”. So here goes:


“Cancer is a term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues”.


On average, each human body is made up of trillions of tiny cells. These cells are in a constant state of maturing, dividing, and dying. It is estimated that every 7 years or so, each cell in our body has been replaced with new ones! Communication between cells is vital. If the communication deteriorates cells can lose the ability to know when to STOP dividing. They continue to divide and multiply and then can result in what is called ‘cancer’.


The broad term of Cancer is commonly subdivided into many categories, depending on the cells in question, where they are located, how fast they grow. For the month of September, we are going to look at Leukemia and Lymphoma, which are types of cancers that affect the blood cells. The basic difference between these two cancers is the location of the cancerous cells. Leukemia usually begins in the bone marrow while Lymphoma occurs in parts of the lymphatic system (the organs responsible for our immune system).


We know that Leukemia usually begins in the bone marrow and is caused by white blood cells becoming malignant. These cells begin to divide rapidly and cannot function as they should. Eventually these tumorous white blood cells start to outnumber the healthy ones, creating overcrowding in the blood system. This overcrowding results in the reduced ability of our blood to transport oxygen, and it becomes difficult for the body to fight infections, prevent bleeding and so on.


Common symptoms of Leukemia may include; pain in the bones, increased bruising and bleeding, increased rate of infections, feeling of weakness and tiredness, swelling in the lymph nodes, fevers and night sweats, discomfort and swelling in the abdomen, and loss of appetite.

As with all cancers, early detection may help increase the chances of successful treatment.


To diagnose Leukemia, a specialist is needed, in this case a hematologist who will check the medical history, perform a physical exam, and look at blood and bone marrow samples for any abnormalities. Once diagnosed, the hematologist will suggest the best treatment depending on the type of Leukemia present, the age and health status of the patient as well as the spread of the cancerous cells.

Treatments for Leukemia may include stand-alone or combinations of chemotherapy, radiation and biological therapy, targeted treatments, as well as stem cell/bone marrow transplants. It is generally recommended that along with these treatments, patients join support groups to help them through this process. Being open about this disease, especially with close family and friends is important to maintain a healthy mental state.


Leukemia is currently being researched extensively. We need to gain a better understanding of cancer in general, including this disease. Hopefully, in the future, scientists will be able to offer better detection systems and treatment options. Until such time, frequent check-ups at your doctor and close monitoring of any changes in your body’s health are important.


For any questions, please feel free to pop into our RezCare Lounge to speak to one of our qualified nurses at 85 Main Road, Fish Hoek, Cape Town (South Africa). If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be producing similar symptoms, please visit your doctor as soon as possible for a check-up.


Below are links to some videos and documents for further information on Leukemia.


Further information and Cancer associations:

  1. Leukemia Treatments, Diagnosis, Causes, Symptoms, and Prognosis - (all the information you need on Leukemia)

  2. Leukemia - Wikipedia (detailed causes, symptoms, and other information on Leukemia)

  3. Cancer Association of South Africa (the official Cancer Association of South Africa)


Youtube Videos:

  1. What is Leukemia? - (2min 24sec) Basic overview of Leukemia

  2. Looking at Leukemia through a new lens [Ted Talks] - (14min 09sec) Wendy Erber, a hematologist talks about the research into Leukemia (Highly recommended)



References:

Intercellular Communication: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/intercellular-communication

Cells in our bodies:

https://www.healthline.com/health/number-of-cells-in-body#blood-cells

Leukemia information:

https://www.medicinenet.com/leukemia/article.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leukemia


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