Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the production of white blood cells. The cells that are produced are abnormal and cannot complete their function effectively. This research paper will discuss leukemia, and assess how it affects the anatomy and physiology of the affected patient. The paper will compare the anatomy and physiology of a normal human being to that of a patient with leukemia. The paper will also consider several parameters that are of importance when talking about leukemia, such as statistics, signs, and symptoms of the condition, causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Blood cells are manufactured in the bone marrow and lymphatic system. The bone marrow is the soft and spongy part tissue of the bones. In patients with leukemia, the white blood cells are produced abnormally. There are three major types of white blood cells: lymphocytes, monocytes, and granulocytes. There are several types of leukemia: chronic myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and chronic lymphatic leukemia. These types of cancers differ in the manner in which the cancer originates and progresses.
The major cause of leukemia is unknown, but individuals that work in factories that work with certain chemicals, such as benzene seem to be at a higher risk in comparison to other members of the population. The rate of leukemia incidences seems to be higher in males in comparison to females in the society. Leukemia is in tenth position in terms of cancers that afflict individuals in the society. According to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (2014), a higher percentage of males, 33 % are diagnosed and have worse outcomes in comparison to their female counterparts. Leukemia has also been found to be more common among Caucasians; 13 for every 100,000 members of the population. The lowest incidences of Leukemia have been seen among minority populations, such as Alaska Natives: 7 for every 100,000 members of the population, 7 per 100,000 members of the population among American Indians, and 7.3 per 100,000 members of the population in Asian and pacific Islanders. The incidences of leukemia are higher among white, Hispanic, and American Indians in comparison to black children. For young adults below 20 years, Hispanics have the highest leukemia incidence rates. Leukemia is the commonest type of cancer among children (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 2014).
Figure 1: Leukemia Survival rates in the U.S. (Leukemia and Lymphoma society, 2014)
In this year (2014), it is expected that the total number of people that will have been newly diagnosed with cancer will be 52, 380.
Fig 2: New Leukemia cases in the U.S. (Leukemia and Lymphoma society, 2014).
Unfortunately, leukemia is highly prevalent and over 310,000 individuals in the United States are living with the disease or are in remission.
Leukemia Survival Rate
The survival rate for patients with leukemia has improved dramatically since the 1960 and 1970’s decades. In the years between 1960 and 1963, the survival rate for individuals diagnosed with leukemia was only about 13.5 %. Between 1975 and 1977, the leukemia survival rate rose to 34 %. Between 2003 and 2009, the leukemia survival rates rose to over 59 %. Between 2010 and 2013, the leukemia survival rates have gone much higher to about 69% with 92 % of that figure being composed of children and adolescents below fifteen years old.
Unfortunately, a high number of individuals are still expected to die from leukemia and its complication by the end of this year; about 14,000 males and 10,000 females are likely to be affected by the condition. Between the years 2006 and 2010, leukemia was recorded as being number five in position in terms of causing deaths in male individuals of the society. In the same year, the disease was number six in position as having caused death of women diagnosed with leukemia in the United States.
Figure 4: Leukemia patients’ deaths in the U.S. (Leukemia and Lymphoma society, 2014)
Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of leukemia can be traced back to the limited number of cells in the body that are able to function effectively since most of the normal red blood cells functions are crowded by the overproduction of abnormal white blood cells in the body. The produced white blood cells cannot function effectively and therefore the leukemia patient body system cannot fight infections in the same manner that a normal health individual can. Due to the low count of blood cells, a leukemia patient will start feeling lightheaded, fatigued, experience shortness of breath, lose appetite, get easily bruised, have fever with recurring infections, and experience frequent bleeding of the gums or nose. More elaborate and specific signs and symptoms might also occur, such as the enlargement of lymph nodes in the different regions where they are located; neck, groin, and armpits.
Advanced imaging tests, such as MRI and CT scans would also show swelling of lymph nodes in the abdomen and chest areas. In some cases, the leukemia cells can cause the spleen and liver to swell due to their accumulation in these organs. The stomach might appear fuller than normal, especially after an individual with leukemia has eaten but a doctor can easily test after a physical examination. Leukemia may also present as trouble breathing or increased coughing because of an enlarged thymus, which is located in front of the windpipe. In some patients, the thymus might cause physical strain by pressing on the Superior vena cava leading to a buildup of blood in the veins, which would cause swelling. Such a symptom is dangerous and would start with effects, such as fainting and might lead to a heart attack, stroke, and death.
The cause of leukemia is still unknown, but it is believed to be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. A mutation is thought to cause a change in the manner in which cells in the body multiply and divide. In normal individuals, cells grow and multiply, and die after a specific period. This is different in leukemia patients, whereby the cells do not die. As leukemia develops, the abnormal leukemia cells crowd out the normal blood cells and hinder their functions, leading to fatigue and swelling of various body organs where the abnormal cells accumulate over time. The functionality of the cells in a patient with leukemia is limited depending on the type. In acute leukemia, the cells that are produced are not normal and are not fully mature (blasts). Therefore, the blasts do not get to accomplish their function effectively and on time. This type of leukemia should be treated in a timely and aggressive manner.
In chronic leukemia, the cells that are produced abnormally are more mature but their accumulation is slower. Therefore, the produced cells can be able to function effectively even if for just a limited time period. Unfortunately, this type of leukemia can take time to diagnose since the symptoms take time to develop and manifest. The type of leukemia can also be classified according to the type of white blood cells that are affected.
Lymphocytic leukemia affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s natural immunity. Myoelogenous leukemia attacks the myeloid cells, which come up with platelets, and white and red blood cells.
Individuals working in benzene related factories can be issued with protective gear that limits their exposure to the chemicals, which have been seen to increase the risk of getting leukemia and other types of cancer. The chemical has carcinogenic agents. Individuals exposed to radiation for long periods of time, such as in the workplace or through atomic bombs are at higher risk of developing leukemia since the radiation is likely to cause mutation of their body cells. Unfortunately, some types of chemotherapy lead to the development of leukemia because of the type of chemotherapy that has been administered. Patients should discuss with their oncologists, the effects of the chemotherapy that is administered to them. For example, individuals that have a leukemia family history should not have certain types of chemotherapy drugs used on them if they have a type of cancer.
Individuals with down syndrome should get regular checkups especially when they experience symptoms that are similar to those of leukemia. The individuals are more prone to getting leukemia in comparison to normal individuals who do not have the condition. An early diagnosis could lead to a better prognosis (The University of Texas, 2014).
One of the ways through which an accurate and timely leukemia diagnosis can be made is through asking the patient questions about their family history. Most of the leukemia patients have a family history of the disease where a relative was also diagnosed with the same medical condition. The doctor checks for any form of swelling, such as lymph nodes located on the neck, armpits, and groin area. The doctor also feels the liver and spleen, which are likely to be enlarged because of accumulated cells in these organs. Leukemia can also be diagnosed through laboratory tests by checking the level of the different types of cells in the body and their shapes and sizes. If such a test suggests that the patient has leukemia, the doctor is likely to order a biopsy to check whether vital organs, such as the kidney and liver have been affected, and to what extent. The doctor can also order for a biopsy where a small size of the bone marrow is extracted and taken for further tests through a biopsy by a pathologist. If the biopsy confirms the presence of leukemia cells, the doctor is likely to order for CT scans (Computed Tomography), X-rays on the chest area, or collect spinal and/ or brain fluid to determine the extent of spreading of the cancer. The doctor might also decide to perform an echocardiogram and electrocardiogram to check whether the superior vena cava’s function is impaired, and to what extent.
Although the survival rates from leukemia have improved from what they were before, some complications might arise from leukemia, such as bodily function being impaired, excessive blood clotting due to too many platelets, upper and lower respiratory problems, high susceptibility to infections, and excessive bleeding.
Are there any complications that may develop in a person suffering from the disease? Explain how the complications affect the patient.
Chemotherapy is the most commonly used form of leukemia treatments all over the world. The chemotherapy drugs target cancer cells so that they stop their abnormal growth. This mode of treatment targets cancer cells since they multiply fast compared to other types of cells. There is bound to be damage to healthy cells, which is one of the reasons why cancer patients on chemotherapy experience nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and lose weight drastically.
Oncologists use a regiment of drugs depending on the type of leukemia, its stage, the patient’s health (ability to cope with the effects of the drug) and any other treatment that the patient might be using ( The New York Times, 2008). The chemotherapy is usually given in cycles, whereby the patient is given the chemotherapy drugs, followed by a recovery period (to let the body recover some energy) before another round of drugs can be re administered (Lwin, Riess & Gandara, 2013).
Many cases of patients have fully recovered from leukemia, especially if/ when it is diagnosed early. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia has the highest death rates in comparison to other types of leukemia. The outcome for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and other types of leukemia is much better in a patient under the age of sixty years old, has no history of other types of cancer or blood disorders, and has no cell mutations in the cells and chromosomes (Harfelach et al, 2005). When it is diagnosed early, during its early stages, leukemia can be cured through aggressive chemotherapy.
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The University of Texas. (2014). Cancer Prevention. Retrieved November 18, 2014