Cancer is a disorder in which cells grow uncontrollably. Usually every cell in its normal cycle divides to form two daughter cells. After division, the daughter cells enter a resting phase and divide only if more cells are required.
A Few Out of Control Cells
A cell that has lost control over its cell cycle and keeps on producing innumerable cells is known as a cancerous cell. In blood cancer, or leukemia, the white blood cells (also called the soldiers of the body) become cancerous. These cancerous white cells are abnormal and not fully developed. They are called "blast cells."
What are the Causes of Leukemia?
There is no single cause of leukemia. The underlying cause of all cancers is DNA mutations; changes in a specific DNA sequence of the cell. But there can be many causes for these mutations. A few known causes of mutations are ionizing radiations (gamma rays, X-rays), viruses (HTLV-1) and chemicals (benzene). Besides, some people are genetically predisposed towards developing cancers.
Know the Symptoms of Leukemia
- Weak Immune System:
Due to excessive production of blast cells, the body produces far fewer platelets which are essential for clotting of the blood. Since white blood cells are suppressed, the body's immune system becomes weak and the body becomes susceptible to recurrent infections.
Anemia is seen due to a drastic fall in the numbers of red blood cells (which carry oxygen to cells).
- Other Symptoms:
These include fevers, chills, fatigue, upper abdominal pain, bone or joint pain, frequent urination and unexplained weight loss. In case of invasion of cancer cells into the nervous system, migraines, headaches, seizures or coma can also occur.
Common Treatment Options for Leukemia
The choice of therapy will depend upon the type of leukemia and age. The primary aim of cancer treatment is to destroy the signs of cancer and to make the symptoms go away. Therapy may be continued even after the patient shows no symptoms to ensure that a relapse does not occur.
Unconventional Treatment Option
Another treatment option, with its own set of benefits and risks, is taking part in a clinical trial for new anti-cancer drugs. "Watchful waiting" is prescribed for patients with chronic leukemia. They are not put on treatment immediately, since they do not show any symptoms. Their condition is carefully monitored and treatment is started as soon as symptoms appear. In this way, the side effects of treatment can be avoided.
Cancers still hold the upper hand in our fight against physical maladies. But with the current speed and direction of research, it is but a matter of time before we conquer this killer once and for all.