Leukemia: Causes, Risk Factors & Types
What Is Leukemia?
The cancer of blood is called Leukemia. The blood cell categorizes into several parts, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
In Leukemia, the number of white blood cells in the body increases out of control and supersedes the number of red blood cells and platelets.
These extra white blood cells don’t function normally and lead to a condition called Leukemia.
What Causes Leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of blood cancer caused by an increase in the number of white blood cells in the body.
These white blood cells exceed the count of red blood cells and platelets that your body requires for being healthy. The extra white blood cells don’t function as they are expected.
The gene mutation is the underlying cause behind the rapid multiplication of abnormal cells.
What Is Gene Mutation and How Do They Occur?
A gene mutation refers to a condition when there is a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. Mutations can vary in sizes; they can affect anywhere from a single DNA building block to a large segment of a chromosome consisting of multiple genes.
Gene mutations can be categorized into two major types:
- Hereditary mutations are inherited from a parent and stays with the person throughout his lifetime. These mutations are also referred to as germline mutations as they are present in the parent’s eggs or sperm cells (also called germ cells). When a sperm cell and an egg collaborate, the resultant fertilized cells obtain DNA from both the parents. In case this DNA has a mutation, the child that develops from the fertilized egg will have a mutation in each of his/her cells.
- Acquired mutations happen at some time during a person’s life and are present only in limited cells, not in every cell in the body. These transformations can be caused by environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun or can happen if an error is made as DNA copies itself during cell division. Acquired mutations in somatic cells (cells other than sperm and egg cells) cannot be departed to the next generation.
What Are The Risk Factors Of Leukemia?
Viruses: Certain viruses like Human T-lymphotropic Virus Type 1 can increase the risk of Leukemia. It is a type of virus that impacts T-cells (a type of white blood cell) and can bring about leukemia and lymphoma. The virus is typically transmitted by sharing needles or syringes, through blood transfusions or sexual contact. It can also spread from mother to child during birth or breastfeeding.
Chemotherapy: People who have undergone chemotherapy treatment remain at an elevated risk of Leukemia. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that makes use of powerful chemicals to kill rapidly growing cells in the body. The cancer cells grow and divide beyond control and that’s the reason it is used to treat several types of cancer.
Weakened Immune System: If you had some other type of cancer earlier in life and had undergone bone marrow transplant or organ transplant, you are at a high risk of getting Leukemia. It happens because cancer treatment can make the immune system weaker and more susceptible to many dangerous diseases.
Exposure To Chemicals: Some of the hair dyes and cleaning agents have benzene in them. Exposure to this particular chemical can raise your risk for the disease.
Artificial Ionizing Radiation: If you have had cancer before and have received radiation therapy treatment, you are at significant risk of getting the disease.
Genetic Conditions: People suffering from the following genetic conditions are at a high risk of getting Leukemia:
- Down’s Syndrome: Children suffering from this syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21. It increases the risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia by 2-3%.
- Li-Fraumeni Syndrome: This syndrome causes mutations in the gene TP53 gene, which raises the chances of leukemia.
Also, having a family history with Leukemia can improve the risk of the disease.
What Are The Types Of Leukemia?
There are four basic types of Leukemia which are listed below:
- Acute Lymphocytic leukemia
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
Let us discuss them briefly:
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Also called ALL
- Starts at B or T lymphocytes
- More prevalent in small children
- Affects the bone marrow in all parts of the body
- Can also transmit to the liver, lymph nodes, and spleen
Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- One of the most common types of acute leukaemia in adults
- Progresses very rapidly
- Any constituent of blood can get affected
The blood stem cells in the bone marrow can form:
- Lymphoid cells, which turn into WBCs.
- Myeloid cells, which can turn into white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets
Usually, the myeloid stem cells grow into abnormal white blood cells. But in rare cases, they can even develop into abnormal platelets or red blood cells.
As these abnormal cells grow and divide, they crowd out healthy cells in the blood and bone marrow. It can also get transmitted to other parts of the body, as well.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Usually affects older adults
- One-third of the total leukemia cases account for this particular type of Leukemia
- Starts at the B lymphocytes
- One form of the disease grows so slowly that the symptoms don’t appear for years after the onset of the disease. While, some other types of illness grow at a rapid pace, and are difficult to get treated.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
- Usually affects adults
- This type of leukemia is sporadic
- Only 10% of all leukemia cases fall under this category
How Is Leukemia Diagnosed?
There are no screening tests available to diagnose Leukemia. A cancer specialist asks the warning signs and personal records, then takes a blood test of the patient. It is enough to tell if a person has leukemia.
If the doctor believes you have leukemia, he may order some of the following tests to confirm the presence of the disease:
- Blood test
- Spinal tap
- Bone marrow biopsy
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