Leukaemia is cancer of the blood. It affects all the blood cells- red cells, white cells and platelets which therefore cannot do their normal work. The white cells are more affected than the others- they are abnormal and increased
Who gets Leukaemia?:
Anybody can get leukaemia. Old, young, black, white, male, female, rich, poor, educated, uneducated- anybody can develop leukaemia. Why does someone get leukaemia and another person doesn’t?
Nobody knows exactly why. What is known is that when someone is in contact with certain chemicals like some pesticides, industrial wastes and solvents, etc the individual’s chances of developing the disease are increased.
Other things that have been known to increase a person’s risk include radiations from electrical and nuclear sources and certain viral infections. These agents affect genes- the architects of life-in a bad way, such that the growth of calls goes out of control.
How does one know he or she has developed leukaemia?
The person often presents to the doctor with tiredness from anaemia, gets fever frequently from the repeated infections arising from the inability of the white cells to fight them, and bleeds easily due to the reduced platelets. The small blood filters- called lymph and liver which are organs in the abdomen that have a role to play in the state of the blood- thus the person may develop a big tummy.
How is the disease diagnosed?
As with all diseases, the doctor first asks a number of questions, then feels the body for the disease, then takes samples of blood for test in the laboratory. In leukaemia a sample is also taken from the bone since that is where the blood calls are made. Many other tests may also be done to determine the extent of damage.
How is leukaemia treated?
By using chemotherapy that kills the cells, blood transfusions to support the reduced blood, and antibiotics to combat infections. Treatment often involves admissions to hospitals for varying period of time. Initial treatment may vary from eight months to two and a half years and longer, depending on the type of leukaemia. Occasionally, in the type called Chronic Lymphoid Leukaemia, no treatment may be required at least for a while. In all cases, the patient should be seen regularly by the doctor.
Whilst the drugs are killing cells, can’t the patient as a whole be killed?
That can happen. So treatment is taken seriously. Not every hospital or doctor can treat this disease. The patient must be treated in a tertiary hospital under a doctor in blood diseases.
Can it be cured?
Some, like the type called Acute Lymphoid Leukaemia can. Others can be cured only by replacing the sick person’s bone marrow with healthy one from a donor in a procedure called bone marrow transplant. Yet others cannot be cured with currently available treatments.
Can family member be infected by it?
What should be everybody’s responsibilities as regards leukaemia?
We should protect our environment. Avoid indiscriminate burning, waste disposal, sighting of residential accommodation, indiscriminate use of chemicals in the agriculture, manufacturing, food and cosmetic industry. We should support individuals suffering from leukaemia in terms of finances and social well-being. We should not stay at home and try all sorts of remedies when we are unwell and when it all fails before we report to hospitals, it makes treatment not only more expensive but also less successful. As in all diseases, the earlier one reports to hospital the better. We should influence our governments to put more resources into provision of adequate infrastructure and medicines for patients.