What is leukemia? Symptoms, types and how to detect this disease

According to data from the report "Cancer figures in Spain in 2020" of the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), cancer is one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality in our country. The number of cancers diagnosed in 2020 is estimated to reach 277,394 cases worldwide, according to REDECAN calculations, a number very similar to that of 2019.

As for the figures related to diagnoses of leukemia, worldwide we have to talk about 437,033 new cases, in 2018, and it is estimated that in 2020 in Spain 6,242 will be reached.

Leukemia, also popularly known as blood cancer, is a type of oncological pathology that affects the tissues that make up the blood in the body, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. It generally affects white blood cells, which have a high power to fight infections and when any problem is detected in their production -their function stops being correct, producing leukemic blast cells or leukemia cells- and therefore, it can be a leukemia case.

As reported by Mayo Clinic, "Leukemia is believed to appear when some blood cells acquire mutations in DNA (the information that is inside each cell and that directs its function). There may be other changes in the cells that have not yet are fully understood and could contribute to leukemia. Some abnormalities cause the cell to grow and divide faster, and to continue to live when normal cells have already died. Over time, these abnormal cells can displace blood cells healthy bone marrow, which lowers the number of healthy platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells, and causes the signs and symptoms of leukemia. "

Leukemia symptoms, difficult to detect

The symptoms of this cancer may vary depending on the type of leukemia that we are facing. The symptoms are usually little specific and slight so it is very possible to ignore some of these symptoms, but if you notice any and they are persistent, it is best to go to your doctor for evaluation. The most common symptoms are usually:

– Fever or chills

– Persistent fatigue, weakness

– Frequent infections

– Weightloss

– Inflammation of the lymph nodes, an enlarged liver or spleen

– Tendency to bleeding, bruising, recurrent nosebleeds

– Petechiae or small red spots on the skin

– Excessive sweating especially at night

– Pain or tenderness in the bones

How is leukemia classified and what types of this disease exist

Acute leukemia: it is when the abnormal blood cells are immature and cannot fulfill their normal functions, multiplying rapidly therefore, the disease worsens rapidly. For this reason, this type of leukemia requires prompt and aggressive treatment.

Chronic leukemia: There are many types of chronic leukemias. Some produce many cells and others few. Blood cells are more mature and therefore replicate very slowly. This type of leukemia may not produce early symptoms and may be overlooked and take years to be diagnosed.

Regarding the types of leukemia, we must also take into account the type of white blood cell which is affected:

Lymphocytic leukemia It affects the lymphoid cells (lymphocytes), which make up the lymphatic tissue, which in turn is part of the immune system.

Myelogenous leukemia: which affects myeloid cells and which are those that cause red blood cells, white blood cells and cells that produce platelets.

The main types of leukemia that exist are:

Acute lymphocytic leukemia: It is the most frequent in children and young people, although it can also affect adults from the age of 30.

Acute myelogenous leukemia: affects children and adults, although it is the most frequent type in adults.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: It is the most frequent in adults and it is possible not to need treatment for years.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia: It mainly affects adults and usually does not present many symptoms or none before being in a phase where cells grow fast.

Other types of leukemia: and other types of leukemias that are rare are also mentioned, such as hairy cell leukemia, myelodysplastic synchromes, and myeloproliferative disorders.

Video:Foods that help prevent cancer

These are some of the factors that increase the risk of developing leukemia

– Previous oncological treatments

– Genetic disorders for example, disorders such as Down syndrome is associated with an increased risk of developing leukemia.

– Exposure to certain chemicals: such as bezene, which we find in gasoline or in the chemical industry.

– Smoking: increases the risk of developing acute myelogenous leukemia.

– Family history with leukemia.

But in most cases, many people with known risk factors do not have leukemia and those with this disease do not have these risk factors. Prevention is always the best option.

How to detect this disease?

A routine blood test can be to set off alarm so that the doctor can suspect suffering from this pathology, even before the symptoms begin in the patient. In the case that the physician considers it convenient, he can do three types of diagnostic tests:

Physical exploration: Some physical signs may be paleness from anemia, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged liver and spleen.

Blood test: With this test, it is possible to determine if the levels of red, white blood cells and platelets are normal or they can jump the indicators of a possible leukemia.

Bone marrow analysis: This test can be used to extract a sample of the bone marrow from the hip bone and determine if it contains leukemia cells and even specialized tests on leukemia cells can be decisive in determining different treatment options.

In any case, the specialist doctor will be the one to determine the diagnosis of this disease and will decide what treatment to carry out.

You are also interested in