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What causes leukaemia?

There is no obvious cause.

It is not contagious or inherited.

Risk Factors:

Age- Older = more common

Gender - Male = more likely.

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What is Leukaemia?

Leukaemia: Type of Blood cancer

Starts in blood forming tissue - usually bone marrow.

Leads to the overproduction of abnormal white blood cells. 

When the bone marrow becomes full of leukaemia cells it also becomes unable to produce the large number of normal blood cells which the body needs.

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Types of Leukaemia

  • There are 2 ways to classify leukaemia - Acute and Chronic.
  • Acute progresses rapidly. Chronic progresses slowly. Acute can be cured with standard treatment. Chronic is usually not curable but treatable. 
  • The 4 types are: 
    • AML (myeloid) and CML (myeloid) these both affect granulocytes, which are a type of white blood cells.
    • ALL (lymphoblastic) and CLL (lymphocytic), these both affect lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell found in the lymphatic system.
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Symptoms of Leukaemia

Symptoms are caused by lack of normal blood cells. This lack of cells leads to:

  • Anaemia (lack of RBC)
  • Tiredness, shortness of breath
  • Infections (lack of normal WBC), they are also more frequent, severe and last longer.
  • Purpura (small bruises in the skin), heavy periods and nosebleeds.
  • Bleeding and bruisind (lack of platelets, so no clotting)

In ALL and CLL lymph nodes (glands in lymphatic system) can become swollen.

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Treatment of Leukaemia

CLL - People with this type do not start treatment right away, they have regular check-ups, this is called watch-and-wait or active-monitpring. Some patients never need to recieve treatment for this type.

Chemotherapy- cell-killing drugs. For lymphoid leukaemia there are usually steriods used also. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles which consists of a series of doses of drugs and then time for healthy cells to recover.

Radiation Therapy- usually used for a stem cell transplant or local disease e.g. leukaeima in the spleen.

Targeted Therapy- drugs which recognise and kill leukaemia cells.

Stem Cell Transplant- Younger patients may be given a stem cell transplant. This is also called a bone marrow transplant. This may be done by either using your own healthy cells of cells from a donor. Nost commonly done for acute leukaemia. The Bone Marrow is usually taken from the donor's hip.

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How is Leukaemia Diagnosed?

Doctors may suspect, but can only be found by lab tests. Usually a blood count will find leukaemia.

Most leukaemia patients will have a bone marrow sample taken to confirm the diagnosis. This sample is also used to work out which type of leukaemia that the patient has. 

In some types of leukaeima a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid (the liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord as some types of leukaemia can get into the nervous system which can protects the cancer from treatment.

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Is the Treatment of Leukaemia a Postcode Lottery?

  • Khalis Younis - CML - has become resistant to all cancer drugs - is not eligible for a stem cell transplant.
  • His application for 'life-saving' drug ponatinib been rejected by the NHS
  • Drug is available on the NHS in Scotland and Wales, but not in England.
  • This is the only treatment left for the father of four.
  • Doctors have blasted the 'postcode lottery' for English CML patients.
  • He has considered moving to Wales so that he can get the treatment but doesnt want to put his family through it. 
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