Leukaemia is a form of cancer that originates in the bone marrow and results in an abnormal growth of white blood cells. These irregular cells hamper the production of other vital blood cells, leading to a decreased count of red blood cells, normal white blood cells, and platelets. Such imbalances can lead to anaemia, unusual bleeding, accelerated blood flow, and an increased vulnerability to infections. Furthermore, leukaemia can metastasize to other parts of the body, including the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes.

Notably, this aggressive cancer is prevalent among the elderly and ranks among the top ten most common cancers in Thailand.

Types of Leukaemia

Leukaemia can be categorised based on the duration of the illness and the type of cell affected:

  • By Duration:
    • Acute Leukaemia: A rapidly progressing type that requires immediate treatment.
    • Chronic Leukaemia: Develops more slowly over time.
  • By Cell Type:
    • Myelogenous Leukaemia: Originates from myeloid cells.
    • Lymphocytic Leukaemia: Develops from lymphoid cells.

The treatment approach largely depends on the specific type of leukaemia, as each variant progresses differently.

Leukaemia Risk Factors

While the exact cause remains elusive, several factors might increase the risk of developing leukaemia:

  • Prolonged exposure to high radiation levels, such as nuclear radiation.
  • Previous chemotherapy treatments, which, paradoxically, can elevate leukaemia risk.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals like benzene and some insecticides.
  • Genetic conditions, including Down’s syndrome.
  • Advanced age, particularly for individuals over 60.
  • Pre-existing bone marrow conditions like Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Leukaemia can manifest through various symptoms:

  • Anemia-related symptoms like dizziness and fatigue due to reduced red blood cell counts.
  • Increased susceptibility to infections due to diminished white blood cell counts.
  • Proneness to bleeding or bruising because of a decreased platelet count.
  • Non-specific symptoms like appetite loss, weight reduction, lumps, and bone pain.

Leukaemia Diagnosis

Doctors often rely on a complete blood count (CBC) test, which can indicate abnormalities in hemoglobin, platelet, and white blood cell counts. Crucially, a bone marrow evaluation is pivotal for a definitive leukaemia diagnosis. This procedure entails extracting a tiny bone marrow sample from the hip or pelvis, a process taking roughly 10-15 minutes, with no hospital stay required.

Treatment Options

The selected treatment strategy considers the leukaemia type, patient’s age, and overall health:

  • Chemotherapy: Primarily for acute leukaemia, this treatment eradicates the cancerous cells, enabling normal blood cell production. The method and intensity depend on the patient’s condition and resilience.
  • Targeted Therapy: Focuses exclusively on cancer cells, causing minimal harm to other cells. An example includes tyrosine kinase inhibitors for chronic myeloid leukaemia.
  • Stem Cell Transplantation: This involves introducing healthy cells from a donor to the patient during cancer remission to avert relapse.

Post-Treatment Follow-up

After initial treatment, doctors recommend periodic blood tests—every 1-2 months for the first year. If results remain stable, these checks extend to every 3-6 months for the subsequent five years. A continued absence of recurrence over these five years typically indicates recovery.

Self-care Recommendations for Leukaemia Patients

  • Prioritise personal hygiene, especially oral care.
  • Avoid congested or poorly ventilated areas.
  • Consume a nutritious diet with properly cleaned and cooked food.
  • Drink abundant clean water and manage stress levels.