Researchers indicate that cancer is one of the leading causes of death globally. It occurs due to some abnormal body cells uncontrollable growth and division. The abnormal cells spread around the body and destroy body tissues. Cancer can develop in any part of the body, and it damages the immune system and make your body vulnerable. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is an example of the different types of cancers that attack the blood cells.
Scientists refer to this cancer as acute because it is uncontrollable, develops very fast, and might be life-threatening. It attacks an immature form of a type of white blood cell known as lymphocytes and creates more immature blood cells. While this blood cancer is rare in adults, it is very common in children. However, there is a high chance of curing it in children through treatments, while curing it in adults is very slim.
What is Acute lymphoblastic leukemia?
Acute lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), known as acute lymphocytic leukemia, is a blood cancer that develops in white blood cells in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is a known soft and spongy tissue located in the bones’ inner center. It produces the bone marrow stem cells. The stem cell makes the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen, the white blood cells needed to fight infection, and the required platelets to stop bleeding.
Causes of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Doctors cannot determine precisely what can cause acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This cancer occurs when changes in the genetic material or DNA of a bone marrow stem cell. These changes (mutation) cause the bone marrow stem cells to continue to grow and divide abnormally. Consequently, the bone marrow produces immature blood cells that can not function properly uncontrollably when this occurs. However, the immature blood cells multiply until they render the healthy blood cells useless.
Furthermore, since we cannot say what causes ALL, the following are factors that may increase your risk of developing it:
Exposure to high radiation levels
You are at a higher risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia if you have exposure to high radiation levels like X-rays before birth or nuclear reactors.
Some medical conditions that affect the genes, such as down syndrome, or some chromosome problem, may put you at risk of developing acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Frequent contact with some chemicals and Past cancer treatments
Contact with chemicals and toxins such as benzene, a solvent, can raise your chances of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Likewise, If you have had some types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat cancer in the past, your chances of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia may be high.
Family history and Bone marrow transplant
Having a brother, sister, or relatives with leukemia may put you at risk for developing ALL. Also, if you have received a bone marrow transplant in the past, you may be at risk of developing lymphoblastic leukemia.
Possible symptoms of ALL
Generally, some signs and symptoms you may see indicate the development of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. These include;
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue.
- Fever and shortness of breath.
- Pale skin
- Bumps or lumps from swollen lymph nodes
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid weight loss.
- Night sweats.
- Bleeding frequently from the gums or nose.
- Increased infections.
- Pain in the joints or bones.
- Petechiae – red spots on the skin.
Diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Furthermore, the symptoms above may also indicate the presence of other illnesses. But it would be best to book an appointment with your doctor if you persistently notice these symptoms in yourself or your child. Early detection and treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) will increase the chances of successful treatment.
To determine the presence of ALL, your doctor will perform the following tests:
- Physical examination: Your doctor will take your symptoms and medical history into account during a physical examination. They will examine you for possible bleeding and bruises, swollen lymph nodes, and signs of other infections.
- Blood tests: Your doctor will carry out tests such as the complete blood count (CBC) to determine if your white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are enough. Also, you may undergo blood chemistry tests such as the basic metabolic panel (BMP) and comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) to determine your body’s chemical balance and metabolism. In addition, you may also require kidney and liver function tests to assess the health of your kidneys and liver. Finally, your doctor may conduct an electrolyte panel test to measure your body’s primary electrolyte levels.
- Genetic tests: Genetic tests might be conducted to check for changes or mutations in the genes and chromosomes.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal fluid test): A spinal tap is also known as a spinal tap. This test involves using a needle to take a sample of your spinal fluid—the fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord for testing to determine if cancer has spread.
- Imaging tests: Different imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasound scans, and a computerized tomography will help your doctor tell if cancer has spread to other parts of your body such as the spinal cord, brain, etc.
- Bone marrow tests: During a bone marrow test, your doctor will remove a sample of the bone marrow from a body part with a needle and test in a lab for leukemia cells.
Available Treatment methods
Generally, there are three stages of acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment. The first stage is known as untreated. The treatments administered are only meant to counter the symptoms at this stage. The first stage of therapy does not aim to halt cancerous growth. At the same time, the second stage of treatment is remission. At this stage, you would undergo treatment to kill as many leukemia cells as possible to get the blood counts back to normal.
The remission stage of treatment gets your complete blood count (CBC) back to normal. It will also help to excellently reduce the number of leukemia cells in your bone marrow. The third stage of treatment is known as recurrent. You might require this if there is a cancer reoccurrence after remission.
The treatment methods used during the stages of treatment include:
- Chemotherapy: This is one of the first treatments administered for remission. It involves using a mix of medications to kill or slow cancer cells. While it has its side effects, it kills most of the leukemia cells in your blood and bone marrow and restores the production of normal blood cells.
- Radiation therapy: This treatment method can prove effective if the cancerous cells have spread to your central nervous system or bone. It involves the use of high beams of energy to kill cancerous cells.
- Targeted therapy: This involves using some drugs that target places within a cancerous cell. It can cause cancerous cells to die. The treatment method can help destroy leukemia cells and prevent them from re-growing. It also comes with fewer side effects compared to chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy: This treatment method involves using medications to boost your immune system to slow the growth of these cancerous cells or kill them completely.
- Stem cell transplant: Alternatively known as bone marrow transplant, this treatment method involves the replacement of leukemic bone marrow with healthy bone marrow taken from a healthy donor or other parts of your body.
Some conservative treatment methods, such as exercises, acupuncture, massage, meditation, etc., may help ease acute lymphoblastic leukemia symptoms. The treatment process of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can last for as long as 2-3 years. Therefore, it is essential to learn all you need to know about leukemia and ask your doctor any questions that may be bothering you. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia can be cured if detected early enough to commence treatment. Therefore, see a doctor today if you notice any signs and symptoms of the cancerous disease.