Acute lymphoblastic laukemia is a cancer that occurs in the blood from an excess of immature lymphocytes . These lymphocytes develop by becoming mature, which means that they are ready to fight infections, but this type of leukemia occurs in the early stages of the lymphocytes preventing their development. The acute nature of the disease means that it develops quickly, so it must be dealt with quickly. This is explained by an uncontrolled reproduction of the lymphocytes that leak into the blood and can reach other organs of the body. Its presence is greater in children, although it is also frequent in adolescents and young adults. The person suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia has symptoms of fatigue, fever, bone and muscle pain, and loss of appetite, among others. If you want to know more, at FastlyHealwe explain the causes, symptoms and prognosis of this type of leukemia.
Causes and types of acute lymphoblastic leukemia
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, immature lymphocytes develop to become mature and, in this way, can fight infections. We can distinguish between two types of lymphocytes that can be affected by leukemia:
- B lymphocytes . They are responsible for defending the body after maturing by producing antibodies that allow it to fight germs, contributing to the proper functioning of the immune system.
- T lymphocytes . There are different types of T lymphocytes, and each of them has a role. While some destroy germs, others help the immune system with the production of antibodies.
We cannot link direct causes that involve the development of leukemia. However, there are a number of factors that are considered risky for this type of cancer:
- Exposure to radiation . Radiation therapy treatments can increase the risk of this type of leukemia, although the risk is higher in acute myeloid leukemia. Although a risk level has not been established, it is known that people who are exposed to radiation, such as those used to take X-rays, could also be a risk factor. A clear example of the consequences of radiation exposure, albeit at a very high level, is that suffered by the survivors of the atomic bomb in Japan. These people had a much higher risk of developing leukemia later in life.
- Chemical substances . Some drugs used during chemotherapy and some chemicals like benzene could also be linked to an increased risk. Benzene is a substance used in the production of plastics, explosives and other materials, as well as being present in tobacco smoke and cleaning products.
- Some viral infections . Certain viral infections involving specific types of viruses can increase the risk of leukemia. This has been observed in Japan, the Caribbean and Africa, while there have been no cases in the US.
- Hereditary syndromes . Acute lymphoblastic leukemia does not appear to be transmitted genetically, so there is no increased risk of developing the disease from parents to children. However, certain inherited syndromes that can increase the risk. Some of these are: Down syndrome, Bloom syndrome, and Fanconi anemia.
- Other factors that have been observed are race and sex , being more frequent among whites and in men.
Symptoms related to acute lymphoblastic leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia develops rapidly, and most symptoms occur when lymphocytes reach the bone marrow, preventing normal white blood cell production. These symptoms are a consequence of a lack of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets :
- Soft spot.
- Feeling dizzy
- Infections as a result of a poor immune system: pneumonia , sinusitis, among others.
- Appearance of bruises.
- Nose or gum bleeding that may be frequent.
Other symptoms present are:
- Night sweats.
- Loss of appetite
In addition, when cancer cells spread to other organs such as the spleen or liver, inflammation can occur that causes abdominal pain. Similarly, inflammation may be present in the lymph nodes.
The patient’s response to treatment varies depending on a number of factors related to it. These can influence when it comes to coping with the disease and receiving certain types of treatment. Some of the factors are as follows:
- Age . Young people tend to have a better prognosis than adults. Similarly, adults have a better prognosis than seniors. As a result, we have that the prognosis will be more optimistic the younger the patient is.
- Chromosome abnormalities . When they occur on chromosomes 4 and 11, the prognosis is less favorable than if they occur on others.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia subtype . In those cases in which B lymphocytes are affected, the prognosis tends to be less favorable than when it occurs in T lymphocytes. Although this does not have to be the case in all cases, the observations in different cases indicate this fact.
- Number of white blood cells . Patients who have a better number of white blood cells when leukemia is diagnosed have a more favorable prognosis.
- Effect of chemotherapy . A decisive factor is the effect that the treatment has on the patient as well as the time in which it must be applied to achieve complete remission of the cancer. Complete remission is achieved when cancer symptoms disappear in response to treatment, which does not imply that the cancer has been cured. Patients whose remission is achieved in four to five weeks have a more favorable prognosis than those in whom it takes longer. In the event that a patient does not achieve a complete remission, the prognosis will be less favorable.
Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia
The treatment options that exist are applied based on the factors named in the previous point. The main goal of treatment is to achieve remission of the disease . When a complete remission is achieved, consolidation treatment is applied, with which it is intended to eliminate residual cancer cells that may remain inactive in the body, but that could begin to reproduce, generating symptoms again. Once the cancerous cells are extinguished, a maintenance treatment is applied, the objective of which is to destroy the inactive cells that could reproduce in the long term and that would entail a relapse.
Available treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia remission include the following:
- Chemotherapy . It consists of giving drugs by mouth or intravenously in order to destroy cancer cells. When injected into the bloodstream, it allows it to reach all areas of the body where the cells that cause cancer are present. For this reason, chemotherapy is effective for patients with leukemia, where there are no tumors. Chemotherapy is made up of cycles, and each number of cycles represents a period of treatment. After applying a period of chemotherapy, a rest period is required. The disadvantage of this treatment is its side effects , for which a person may not be able to cope with it and would require another treatment alternative.
- Targeted therapy . The advantage of this treatment over chemotherapy is its side effects, since they are less severe. It is mainly used to fight specific parts of cancer cells . It was originally created for use in the treatment of chronic myeloid laukemia , but a beneficial effect was found in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. These medications are administered orally in pill form and some of their side effects are: diarrhea, fatigue and muscle aches, among others.
- Stem cell transplantation . Chemotherapy cannot be applied in the long term, since it could damage the bone marrow. This is where bone marrow transplantation comes in, as it allows for a higher dose of chemotherapy, which can sometimes be combined with radiation, to kill cancer cells.
This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.
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I am a Surgeon with a diploma in comprehensive ultrasound and surgical care residency, an area I am specializing in. During the exercise of my profession, I have realized the need for patients to know the diseases they suffer, and I can tell you that a large part of their complications is due to a lack of information. Being a health web writer allows me to transmit my experience, without borders, to all those readers eager for knowledge, educate them in the prevention of diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle.