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Chronic myeloid leukaemia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About chronic myeloid leukaemia

Chronic myeloid leukaemia is a malignancy (abnormal growth of cells) of blood cells. It is characterised by increased production of precursors of white blood cells in various stages of development which would have otherwise matured to form white blood cells in normal circumstances. The production of blood cells takes place in the bone marrow which may get replaced with excessive amounts of malignant leukaemic cells.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia: Incidence, age and sex

Chronic myeloid leukaemia can occur at any age but is it seems to be more prevalent in adults as compared to children. It is more common in people above the age of 40 years.

Signs and symptoms of chronic myeloid leukaemia: Diagnosis

The characteristic signs and symptoms are gradual in onset and are a result of reduction in normal blood cells as compared with abnormal cells in blood. An individual with chronic myeloid leukaemia may exhibit paleness of the skin, breathlessness, feel excessively tired and may complain of loss of appetite. These symptoms can occur due to reduced count of red blood cells which may result in anaemia. Reduced count of platelets may cause increased likelihood of bleeding from small wounds, bleeding from the nose and the gums. The body is unable to fight against infectious agents like bacteria and virus, due to reduced white blood cells, thus leading to increased chances of infections. Fever, excessive sweating at night, bone pain and headache are some other clinical features. The physician on examination may find increase in size of the spleen which is usually due to the collection of abnormal blood cells in it.

Causes and prevention of chronic myeloid leukaemia

There are three kinds of blood cells namely red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets which are produced in the bone marrow which is a part of the bone. Normally these cells are released from the bone marrow into the blood stream where they carry out their functions. In chronic myeloid leukaemia an enormous number of ‘myeloid’ cells are produced in rapid progression and released into the blood stream. These myeloid cells are actually immature white blood cells which fail to mature and function properly. Not only this, large number of these abnormal, cancerous cells replace the normal red blood cells and platelets, leading to typical clinical features.

Several research studies have concluded that that there seem to be some factors which might trigger this cancerous production of blood cells. Such factors include exposure to radiation, toxic materials like benzene and genetic factors. A recent organ transplant can also play a role in causing leukaemia. A chromosomal abnormality called ‘Philadelphia chromosome’ is an significant genetic factor leading to this malignancy.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia: Complications

The complications of chronic myeloid leukaemia can be excessive bleeding which is potentially fatal or severe infections which may result in prolonged hospitalization or in rare instances, death. Moreover the abnormal blood cells may spread to the brain, signifying a poor prognosis.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia: Treatment

The diagnosis can be confirmed by some blood tests and by a lumbar puncture. Lumbar puncture is a procedure where a small sample of bone marrow is aspirated to examine the extent of spread of malignant cells. The treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia depends on the age and health status of the patient. The treatment modalities include chemotherapy which kills the abnormal myeloid cells and target drugs like Imatibib, Dastimib and Nilotinib which specifically target cancer cells to stop their further growth. Interferons may also be considered in some individuals to inhibit the growth of malignant cells. A latest advancement, stem cell transplant may be considered as a last resort in some individuals. This is a definitive cure for chronic myeloid leukaemia. Regular blood transfusions may be essential to prevent anaemia and bleeding. Antibiotics can be prescribed for infections. Chronic myeloid leukaemia does not have a good prognosis. The survival rate is low especially in persons of older age groups.

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