Leukemia

Leukemia is a term covering a wide range of cancerous conditions involving the production of white blood cells (WBC). The body produces WBC to fight infection. Several types are produced for a range of specific functions for example neutrophils digest and kill bacteria whilst eosinophils can kill parasites.

In Leukemia an abnormal WBC is produced that has no function, other than making many more copies of itself. More abnormal WBC are copied from this single abnormal 'clone' causing suppression in the production of other normal WBC as well as red blood cells and platelets. The reduction in platelet levels leads to abnormal bleeding, which then further reduces the numbers of red blood cells, resulting in severe anemia.

The reduction of functioning WBC causes suppression of the immune system leading to recurring infections. In addition, leukemia sufferers may also experience bone pain, fever and rapid unexplainable weight loss. If left untreated the leukemia will result in death due to overwhelming infections and internal hemorrhages. Treatment usually includes total irradiation to kill all WBC and administration of anti-leukemic drugs.

If a compatible bone marrow donor is available a bone marrow transplant may also be given. Advances in leukemia treatments have greatly increased the survival rate. In the 1960s almost every child with the most common form of leukaemia died from the disease.

By 1988 the survival rate had increased dramatically to 70%.

For further help, advice or information telephone the Leukaemia Care Society on 01392 464848, or their 24hr supportline on 0345 673203

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