Leukemia is one of the most fear evoking forms of cancer in many ways because it is not fully understood by science or by the general populations. Like many forms of cancer, Leukemia has devastating and specific symptoms. Patients suffering from leukemia suffer swollen glands, frequent nosebleeds, pain, malaise, fever, night sweats and weight loss. Most symptoms increase with intensity at the disease increasingly infects blood cells.
Starting in the bone marrow where blood cells are synthesized, Leukemia has the potential to devastate the system as it uses the host’s body to birth more leukemia cells. Instead of normal white blood cells, cancerous cells continue to grow until they use all the resources that one supported normal cells. Once this occurs, a patient develops symptoms including internal bleeding, anemia and infections (Bohlke, 2015). In addition, because blood passes throughout the body so readily it has the potential to spread cancerous cells to other areas. One particularly damaging transfer occurs when the cancerous cells enter the lymph nodes, a major part of the immune system. The lymph nodes also have the potential to continue the spread of disease throughout other major organs in the body.
Leukemia is complicated by several different manifestations of the disease. There are four main types of leukemia including: acute lymphoblastic, acute myelogenous, chronic lymphocytic and chronic myelogenous. Acute forms of the disease have symptoms that manifest suddenly. In chronic cases symptoms may not appear until late in the diseases’ progression and often develop slowly (Bohlke, 2015). To differentially diagnose between these types, doctors must perform a series of testing. Often this involves a comprehensive physical, blood work, bone marrow biopsy and other testing to ensure the disease has not spread to other areas. This process is often an exhausting trial for patients and as such, counseling is an important consideration for these patients even from a medical standpoint. Obviously, counseling helps the quality of life for these patients but has also been shown to improve adherence to treatments which is of the essence as much as time is in cases of Leukemia.
It is difficult to predict what exactly causes Leukemia however, certain genetic and life factors have been shown to correlate with a higher instance of Leukemia. Family history is relevant in Leukemia, as is whether or not an individual has been exposed to radiation, smoking or other chemicals. In addition, certain patients with another disorder for example, Down Syndrome, are more likely to develop this type of cancer (Deschler & Lübbert, 2006). Age may also play a part in developing Leukemia as it is the most common type of cancer found in children. Almost three quarters of children suffering from cancer are those children with Leukemia. As such, there has also been more research in how to combat this cancer at younger ages. Likely due to this fact in part a higher instance of children sufferers (approximately 60%-85%) survive, whereas adults survive at a lower rate that differs depending on country of origin (Bodey, Buckley, Sathe & Freirich, 1966). This data must all be interpreted cautiously because overall, instances of Leukemia are actually much more common overall in adults (Deschler & Lübbert, 2006). In fact, 90% of people suffering from Leukemia are adults (Stilgenbauer & Zenz, 2002). It is a devastating form of cancer that can make it impossible for an adult to continue to work or even carry out basic acts of daily human life (Bodey, Buckley, Sathe & Freirich, 1966).
Treatment can involve a combination of therapies most commonly, chemotherapy, global and localized radiation and bone marrow transplant. Sometimes in less severe cases, a “wait and watch” strategy is even used (Simone, 1994). This can be an important consideration as certain treatments of cancer are actually quite dangerous and have intense symptoms. Because chemotherapy and radiation essentially attack cells that duplicate quickly, these therapies are not necessarily able to distinguish between cancerous cells and healthy cells (Bodey, Buckley, Sathe & Freirich, 1966). Due to this phenomenon, sometimes the treatment of cancer can actually be almost as devastating as the cancer itself. Treatments can cause hair to fall out, skin to become thin, nausea, headaches, malaise, hearing loss, anxiety, lack of appetite, breathing problems, confusion, pain and dizziness (Bohlke, 2015). Unfortunately, this is not close to an exhaustive list of symptoms. Despite this, developing countries such as the United States are becoming better at managing cases of Leukemia. Now, in most of these countries over half of adults diagnosed with Leukemia survive.
For countries to continue to make strides in the fight against Leukemia, they will need to work together and share information among disciplines. In instances where huge strides have been made in cancer research it was because communities of medical professionals engaged in information sharing, pooled data and set aside issues of pride to help their patients (Bohlke, 2015; Stilgenbauer & Zenz, 2002). This is the only way to assess enough patients and understand trends in how cancer cells both develop and die. Many well-developed clinical research trials are necessary to determine the procedures for obtaining the very best outcomes in patients who have already developed Leukemia (Simone, 1994). From another standpoint, research could also consider how to prevent Leukemia before its onset or even in much earlier stages of the disease (Stilgenbauer & Zenz, 2002). While there are many avenues to learn more about Leukemia and cancer in general, it may require an immense amount of patience and heard work on the part of scientists to truly overcome this devastating disease.