Leukemia is, without a doubt, one of the most common childhood cancers. The disease has many types, among them includes acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The tumor tends to occur in children between the ages of 1 to 4 years, and affect mostly boys, although girls are also victim. However, to better understand ALL, it is important for you to understand the pathology of leukemia. Normally, the bone marrow produces blood stem cells to soon develop into mature blood cells.
During the maturity process, blood stem cells can develop into myeloid cells or lymphoid cells. When they form a myeloid cell, it tends to develop into three types of mature blood cells which are known as red blood cells, cells that carry oxygen as well as nutrients to every part of the body; white blood cells, cells that help in fighting off diseases and infections; and platelets, blood cells that work by participating in formation of blood clots and prevention of excessive bleeding.
When the blood stem cells develop into a lymphoid cell, nevertheless, they tend to further divide into any of the three types of white blood cells called leukocytes: B lymphocytes, blood cells that produce antibodies to fight against infections and other pathogenic agents; T Lymphocytes, blood cells that help B lymphocytes in the production of antibodies; and Natural killer cells(also known as NK cells, K cells, and killer cells), health blood cells which attack viruses and cancer cells within the body
As for now, you may be asking so what do these blood cells have to do with leukemia?
You don’t need a PHD in oncology to understand. The answer is simple. When the stem cells develop into too many lymphocytes during the maturity phase, it leads to leukemia. These cells do not fight infection as they should; instead, they just keep dividing and reproducing anarchically. As their number increases, they invade other normal blood cells like RBCs, platelets and healthy WBCs, making it difficult for the health cells to have enough space to survive. This leads the patient to become anemic, suffers from recurrent infections and easy bleeding. This medical condition is called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The fact that leukemic cells can travel all around the body, the symptoms tend to differ. Depending on the number of leukemic cells or organ more affected by the disease, patients with ALL tend to show different symptoms: paleness, weakness, anemia, and others. In addition, these other symptoms may also occur:
- Easy bruising
- Bleeding from gums and severe nosebleed
- Pain in the joints and bone
- tiredness and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Recurrent infections
- Petechiae (flat, tiny red spots under the skin due to bleeding)
- Formation of painless lumps in the neck, armpits, stomach and groin.
The causes of leukemia are not well known. However, medical scientists believe that acute lymphoblastic leukemia result from errors in the cell DNA, leading the leukemic cells to continue to grow and divide. Once the cancer cells have longer life span than normal cells it becomes easy for them to attack and kill healthy cells which your body needs to stay healthy and function properly.
Certain factors and lifestyle that are suspected to increase the chance to develop leukemia include:
- Down syndrome (trisomy 21
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Klinefelter syndrome
- high levels of radiation
- Immune system suppression
- Children and adults treated for other cancers with certain chemotherapy drugs
- Exposure to chemotherapy and certain other chemicals
- Siblings (brothers and sisters) of children with leukemia
- Environmental risk factors (radiation, certain chemicals, etc.)
- Certain inherited diseases (ataxia telangiectasia, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, and Bloom syndrome).
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment tends to include induction therapy, a therapeutic procedure consisting of using rapid, specific, short term-modulation of the immune system using a therapeutic agent to induce T-cell non-responsiveness. The diseased child may receive chemotherapy medications for about 2 to 3 years in hope to completely eradicate the tumor. In addition, the health care provider can also recommend target therapy, radiation therapy, as well as stem cell transplant.
The treatment may cause side effects. But it has been observed that about 90% cases of the acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children have been successfully treated. The children become free of the disease. Please, see leukemia Treatment for more info.