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Leukaemia: Cancer of the blood

HEALTH DIALOGUE
LEUKAEMIA is a cancer of the blood. The blood cells which are produced in the bone marrow change (mutate) into cells that live longer than they should. The bone marrow produces stem cells that are the starting point of cells found in the blood. The blood stem cells produce two types of stem cells that go on to produce the different cell components of blood.
White blood cells live anywhere between 6 hours and 20 days, the cells are usually destroyed in case of infection and if they are not destroyed during infection, they naturally disintegrate. The mutant cells divide faster and live longer, which then overcrowd the bone marrow causing it to reduce the number of new cells being produced. The Merck Manual classifies leukaemia into four major groups; Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL), Acute Myelocytic Leukaemia (AML), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), Chronic Myelocytic Leukaemia (CML). This classification is based on how quickly the disease progresses.
The exact cause of leukaemia is unknown, but there are some factors that increase the risk of developing the disease which include, but are not limited to; a family history of the disease, ethnicity, radiation exposure, long term osteoarthritis.
Leukaemia is mainly treated with chemotherapy in the hope to kill off as many of the affected cells as possible. In some cases intensive radiation therapy with chemotherapy may be used in combination with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. As with all diseases, early detection increases the chances of survival.
Lymphoma is a cancer that happens in the body’s immune system called the lymph system. While there are many forms of lymphoma, they are grouped into two main categories; Hodgkin’s Disease and Non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma start with white blood cells which mediate immune response in the body, begin to develop abnormally, dividing without stopping and spreading to other parts of the body where they start to divide abnormally once again.
The most common symptoms for lymphoma are; unexplained weight loss, unexplained weakness, night sweats, fever, swollen lymph nodes that are painless in the neck, armpit or groin), cough, trouble breathing and/or chest pains. These symptoms may last anywhere from 3 weeks to several months, sometimes the only symptom may be an enlarged painless lymph node. Hodgkin’s disease rarely manifests itself before the age of 5 years, it is more common in children who have had Epstein-Barr virus infection.
Lymphomas are diagnosed with a combination of blood tests and visualisation of cells taken from any tumour found.
Treatment is given in form of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In the case where there is disease relapse, stem cell transplantation may be used in conjunction with the other therapy.
Almost all forms of cancer are treatable if found early. The survival rate for those found in early stages of the disease is about seventy percent in children and the chances of survival increase to about ninety percent if the disease is localised.
For more information on leukaemia and lymphoma please email
990health@champ.org.zm

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