Leukemia – Cancer of the Blood
Leukemia is also known as the cancer of the blood or that of the bone marrow. Multiple myeloma, another name for cancer of the blood is a cancer wherein the bone marrow (which is the soft tissue in the bones) is infected with malignancy. The bone marrow produces cells called stem cells which mature into three different types of cells i.e. red blood cells (carry oxygen), white blood cells (fight infection) and blood platelets (help in blood clotting). Every normal cell dies after completing its life cycle. However, in patients suffering from cancer of the blood, the white blood cells (also called leukocytes) forget to die after their life cycle completion. As a result they make other blood cells non-functional.
Due to the non-functioning blood cells, the body loses its ability to fight diseases thus rendering it highly susceptible to infections like diarrhea, pneumonia and flu. Cancer of the blood causes the body to loose weight suddenly and unexplainably. Anorexia is commonly seen in patients suffering from cancer of the blood.
Mostly the blood smear of patients with cancer of the blood when seen under a microscope shows an unusually high number of white blood cells while an extremely low number of red blood cells. As a result of excessive white blood cells, the non-infected cells have to share their resources which causes malfunctioning of these cells as well. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin which carries oxygen. Shortage of red blood cells leads to anemia and shortness of breathe i.e. breathlessness.
Cancer of the blood can be diagnosed with a blood test, bone marrow biopsy and lymph node biopsy. Amongst these, blood test may not be very accurate because sometimes the cancerous cells remain within the bone marrow and have are yet to infect the bloodstream. In this case only the bone marrow is infected and not the blood stream. This is also known as aleukemia.
The usual methods of treating cancer of the blood are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, anti cancer drugs and bone marrow transplant. Since cancer of the blood is basically cancer of the bone marrow, it can be treated well by transplanting healthy bone marrow in place of the infected one. Doing so prevents the further production of cancerous blood cells thereby avoiding cancer in the bloodstream which may spread to other parts of the body. Blood transfusions, performed to replenish the body with hemoglobin lost in the form of red blood cells, is a common practice with patients suffering from cancer of the blood.