What Is Leukemia?

And how can we treat it?

Nowadays, it’s very rare to not know someone who has or had cancer. It’s a disease that touches all of us, but not everyone knows what it is exactly. Let’s talk about one of the most “popular” type of cancer: leukemia.

Leukemia develops in blood stem cells in the bone marrow. These cells are meant to develop into other cells that have different jobs but because of leukemia, they can’t grow normally. When there are more leukemia cells than healthy blood cells, they can’t do their job anymore (fight infections, carry oxygen, make antibodies, etc.) There are four types of leukemia: the acute lymphocytic, the acute myelogenous, the chronic lymphocytic and the chronic myelogenous. They differ from one another by how quickly leukemia cells develop and grow.

Everyone who has leukemia get different treatments based on the type of their disease, their age, their genetic conditions (people who have Down syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities are more likely to have leukemia) and the person’s overall health. The treatment options include chemotherapy, which is the main treatment for Leukemia and is also used to treat many other cancers, stem cells transplant (for younger people) and radiation therapy, which is used to prepare the diseased patient for stem cells transplant or prevent the cancer to spread to the central nervous system. There’s also a targeted therapy for patients with genetic abnormalities. The treatments begin with the induction therapy, which is basically chemotherapy and giving hormones to the patient to kill the leukemia cells. Then it is the consolidation therapy, which includes more chemotherapy and stem cells transplant to kill the remaining leukemia cells that don’t show up in tests. Finally, during maintenance therapy, lower doses of chemotherapy are given through pills and intravenous.

There is much more information to give about leukemia, but I wish that you’ve learned a little bit about this disease and that it made you think about how hard it would be if a relative lived with it.

Noémie Pelletier

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