What is Leukemia?
It is also one of the most common cancers in children and adults younger than 20 years. The survival rate is higher for younger people.
Leukemia is a group of cancers of the blood affecting the white blood cells. White blood cells are the infection-fighting cells of the body. In leukemia, white blood cell production becomes abnormal in the bone marrow. The abnormal white blood cells divide uncontrollably and eventually outnumber the healthy white blood cells. In the end, it becomes difficult for the body to fight infections, control bleeding, and transport oxygen.
White blood cells can be of myeloid or lymphoid origins and corresponding leukemia derives their names as myeloid or lymphoid leukemia.
What is the first sign of leukemia?
Leukemia symptoms develop slowly. Generally, leukemia starts with flu-like symptoms, including night sweats, fatigue (weakness) and fever. If the fever symptoms continue for longer than usual, it is important to consult your doctor.
Other early symptoms of leukemia include:
- Fever of unknown origin
- Swollen lymph nodes (lumps along the neck, armpits, groins)
- Frequent infections
- Easy bruising or heavy bleeding
- Bone and joint pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
What are the common types of leukemia?
There are four common types of leukemia which include:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL):
- In this type of leukemia, immature lymphoid cells grow rapidly in the blood.
- It is the most common type of leukemia in children and rarely affects adults.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML):
- In this type of leukemia, immature myeloid cells grow rapidly in the blood.
- It occurs in both adults and children
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL):
- It is a slow-growing cancer of lymphoid cells.
- It usually affects people older than 55 years.
- It rarely occurs in children or adolescents.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML):
- It is a type of chronic disorder in which the myeloid cells grow in the blood.
- It primarily affects adults
What is the life expectancy of a person with leukemia?
In adults, leukemia is most common in people older than 55 years, with the average age of diagnosis being 66 years. It is also one of the most common cancers in children and adults younger than 20 years. The survival rate is higher for younger people.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the percentage of deaths by age group is as follows:
- Patients younger than 44 years have high chances of life expectancy.
- Patients aged 44-54 years have average chances of life expectancy.
- Patients aged 55-84 years have less chance of survival; however, patients aged 75-84 years have very little chance of survival.
Below are a few common risk factors that affect the survival rate of the patient which include:
- Time of diagnosis,
- Progression and spread of the cancer
- Type of leukemia
- A family history of blood conditions and leukemia
- The extent of bone damage
- Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene and some petrochemicals
- Exposure to certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Chromosome mutations
- The body’s response to treatment
- Blood cell count
- Tobacco use
Below is the life expectancy depending on the type of leukemia:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL): In general, the disease goes into remission in nearly all children who have it. More than four out of five children live at least 5 years. The prognosis for adults is not as good. Only 25 to 35 percent of adults live 5 years or longer.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): With proper treatment, most people with this cancer can expect to go into remission. About 80 percent who go into remission will do so within 1 month of therapy. In some people, however, the disease will return, lowering the cure rate.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): On average, people with this cancer survive 9 years, although some have lived for decades, cancer always comes back at some point.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML): The outlook for people with chronic myeloid leukemia has improved dramatically over the past 10 years.
Can leukemia be cured?
Acute leukemias can often be cured. Chronic leukemias can be managed with therapy.
- There are different medical approaches to the treatment of leukemia. Treatment will typically depend upon the type of leukemia, the age of the patient, and health status, as well as whether leukemia has spread to other organs.
- The goal of cancer treatment includes eliminating cancer, preventing it from coming back and increasing the survival rate.
- Treatment can include:
- Radiation therapy
- Stem cell transplant
- Targeted therapy
- Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell treatment
- Supportive therapy and manage symptoms and complications
Treatment can last several months or even years depending on the type and severity of the condition.