Leukemia: causes, symptoms and chances of recovery from blood cancer
March 29, 2017 – 3:32 pm
Leukemia is curable in many cases
Leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is a malignant disease of the hematopoietic and lymphatic systems. One of the symptoms of leukemia is the uncontrolled increase in white blood cells in the patient’s blood. With the help of modern medicine, the disease is curable in many cases.
According to the ‘German Cancer Research Center’, people fall ill every year in Germany round 11,500 people with leukemia. This means that the disease occurs relatively rarely: Breast cancer, for example, causes the number of people suffering from it to be over 71,000 annually. Around 6 percent of the 11,500 patients are children under the age of 15.
There are different types of leukemia: acute and chronic. Acute leukemia is life-threatening if it is not treated within the first few weeks. The chronic variant, however, can last for several years without causing complaints. In addition to the different course of the disease, a distinction is made between several types of leukemia: The most common are lymphatic and myeloid leukemia.
In both forms of leukemia, immature, non-functioning cells develop in the bone marrow or lymphatic system instead of normal, mature leukocytes. These degenerate cells cannot carry out their task of fighting pathogens and multiply uncontrollably quickly, so that they displace red blood cells and platelets.
Despite the technological advances in treating the disease, the causes of leukemia remain unclear. Experts speculate that mainly chemicals such as benzene (contained in petrol), radiation, viruses, smoking and the genetic background are responsible for the onset of leukemia.
The most common signs of leukemia are fatigue, poor performance and pallor. In addition, there is in many cases an increased susceptibility to infections and a tendency to bleed, which manifests itself in the form of increased bruises. Other symptoms can include fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, and night sweats. Since the risk factors for the disease are unknown, early detection is not possible. If you discover such symptoms in yourself or a family member, a quick visit to the doctor is advisable. Because: the faster the disease is discovered, the higher the chance of a cure.
Leukemia: treatment and chances of recovery
Leukemia is treated in three steps: with induction, consolidation and maintenance therapy. While all leukemia cells are to be destroyed in induction therapy, consolidation therapy is about checking and combating any remaining cancer cells. The third phase, i.e. maintenance therapy, serves to stabilize and prevent relapses.
Induction therapy usually consists of chemotherapy and taking cytostatics (medication, the the Inhibit cell growth) as tablets or infusion. Depending on the patient’s condition, chemotherapy can be done either in the hospital or on an outpatient basis.
In the consolidation therapy, the patient continues to receive cytostatics. The maintenance phase, on the other hand, can be designed very differently depending on the type of disease.
In some cases, leukemia patients receive stem cell or bone marrow transplants in addition to chemotherapy. The stem cells and bone marrow can come from the patient himself or from a donor. They increase the chance of getting well again and can be combined with other treatment methods.
During intensive chemotherapy, 99.9 percent of cancer cells can be destroyed – but 0.01 percent of cancer cells survive. For this reason, leukemia patients are generally not called permanent cures. The patient’s chance of survival depends on many different factors, such as the type of leukemia, other diseases and the age of the patient. On average, about 40 percent of adult patients live after treatment five years after a diagnosis of leukemia. About 65 percent of them had blood cancer again within these five years.
Martina Feichter studied biology with an elective in pharmacy in Innsbruck and also delved into the world of medicinal plants. From there it wasn’t far…
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