Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It is caused by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells. 

Find out what leukemia is, its main types, risk factors, common symptoms, screening and diagnosis methods, and the various treatment options available.

What Is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It occurs when there is an abnormal increase in the number of white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting infection. Normally, white blood cells grow and divide in an orderly manner, but in leukemia, the process goes awry, leading to the production of immature or abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal cells crowd out healthy blood cells, impairing the body’s ability to fight infections and control bleeding.

What Are The Types?

  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) – The most common type, a rapidly progressing cancer that starts in the bone marrow’s myeloid cells, which normally develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) – A fast-growing cancer that starts in the lymphoid cells, which develop into white blood cells called lymphocytes. It is the most common type of leukemia in children.
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) – A slow-progressing cancer that affects the lymphoid cells, leading to an overproduction of abnormal lymphocytes. It is a common adult leukemia
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) – A slow-progressing cancer that originates in the bone marrow’s myeloid cells, characterised by the presence of an abnormal chromosome called the Philadelphia chromosome. It mostly affects adults.

Leukemia in Singapore - Statistics

According to the National University Cancer Institute Singapore, leukemia accounts for about 40% of all childhood cancers in Singapore and throughout the world. With the advances in the therapy of childhood Leukaemia in Singapore, 80% of the children are now long-term survivors and are considered cured.

Who Is At Risk?

Certain factors may increase the risk of developing the condition:

    • Family history of leukemia or certain genetic disorders.
    • Prolonged exposure to high levels of radiation or certain chemicals may increase the risk.
    • Individuals who have undergone certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, may have an increased risk.
    • Some conditions, such as Down syndrome, are associated with a higher risk of leukemia.

What Are The Symptoms?

The symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type and stage of the disease. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the bones and joints.
  • Experiencing fevers and chills.
  • Skin that bruises or bleeds easily.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes.
  • Weight and appetite loss.
  • Persistent fatigue.

Are There Screening Tests?

Currently, there are no widely recommended screening tests for leukemia. However, individuals with known risk factors or those experiencing symptoms should undergo further evaluation, including blood tests and bone marrow biopsy, if necessary.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diagnosing leukemia typically involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, and laboratory tests. These may include:

  • Physical examination.
  • Blood tests to measure complete blood count, checking the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Leukemia results in elevated levels of white blood cells and decreased levels of platelets and hemoglobin (found within red blood cells).
  • Bone marrow biopsy to examine the presence of leukemia cells.

What Are The Treatment Options?

Treatment for leukemia depends on several factors, including the type of leukemia, the patient’s age and overall health, and the stage of the disease. Common treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy – Powerful drugs used to kill cancer cells or stop their growth.
  • Targeted therapy – Drugs that specifically target cancer cells while minimising damage to healthy cells.
  • Immunotherapy – Treatment that boosts the body’s immune system to help fight cancer.
  • Radiation therapy – High-energy rays used to kill cancer cells or shrink tumours.
  • Bone marrow transplant – A procedure to replace damaged or diseased bone marrow with healthy stem cells.

Doctor For Leukemia Diagnosis Or Treatment

Health365 has partnerships with trusted healthcare providers in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Contact us for an introduction to a doctor for leukemia diagnosis or treatment.

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