We’ve all heard about leukaemia and know that it is a blood cancer, but how much do you really know about the disease? Anindra Siqueira & Purva Indulkar tell you about leukaemia and talk about some of its early signs
Sure, you know that leukemia is a terrible condition of the blood, but do you know how dangerous this mysterious disease is? Leukaemia is more common today than it was a decade ago, which is why we need to empower ourselves about this serious and life-threatening condition. Leukaemia is generally thought of as a children’s disease, but there are several forms of the disease; some occur more in children, others are seen more often in adults. Here we’re telling you about the basics of leukaemia and bringing you early and uncommon signs of the condition.
WHAT IS LEUKAEMIA?
In its simplest form, leukaemia is a cancer of the blood cells in which your body produces proportionately more white blood cells, causing less red blood cells and platelets to be produced, which your body needs to stay healthy. However, the extra white blood cells produced aren’t normal and don’t function properly. If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of the disease, leukaemia is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. These include bone marrow and the lymphatic system, in addition to blood cells.
While these signs could mean a variety of things (and may not necessarily signal the blood and bone disease), they are somewhat characteristic of leukaemia.
Your skin has become paler
Since your body prioritizes making white blood cells (albeit damaged ones) over red blood cells, you have fewer healthy red blood cells and less oxygen is delivered to your organs and your skin. This can result in anaemia and paler skin.
Your hands are cold all the time
It may seem like an innocent chilly feeling, but it could be something more. This is a sign that your extremities are not getting enough blood — not as much as they need anyway. If you spend many hours a day in the cold confines of air-conditioned rooms, your hands are bound to feel icy. But, if you find your hands cold, chilly and clammy even after you’ve been out in the sun, it’s time to get yourself checked.
You get tired easily
This has a lot to do with what the red blood cells do. They transport oxygen. The less usable oxygen your body has, the more tired you will feel. You might find it difficult to do what you used to — simple things like climbing up the stairs, walking to buy groceries and doing yoga exercises.
You fall sick often
The white blood cells produced, even though large in number, don’t function as they should. This means that your body’s biggest defence is damaged, or at the very least compromised. So it should come as no surprise that with such a compromised immune system a person will fall sick more frequently. They catch colds and develop fever often.
You are often out of breath
Red blood cells are rich in iron, which is packed in haemoglobin, the body’s carrier of oxygen. With less iron and oxygen available to your body, even simple things like running to catch the train or singing can leave you breathless.
WHAT THE DIFFERENT BLOOD CELLS DO
White blood cells act as your body’s defence system and fight infection.
Red blood cells carry and supply oxygen to all the parts of your body.
Platelets attach themselves to sites of injury, helping your blood to clot and preventing loss of blood.
Here are a few early signs that may be seen with leukaemia:
- A fever or chills
- Gross weight loss
- Bleeding or bruising that occurs easily
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Sweating excessively, especially at night
- Aches or pains in the bones
- Lasting tiredness
- Recurrent or severe infections
WHAT CAUSES LEUKAEMIA?
Leukaemia is thought to be caused by mutations in the DNA of blood cells. There may be other mechanisms, but the cause of the condition is largely not well understood. The mutations in the cell DNA cause abnormalities. Cells divide and grow more rapidly. Over time, these abnormal cells crowd out healthy cells causing the signs and symptoms of leukaemia.