I might get someone to find the exact link to all the info in my ‘understanding acute lymphoblastic leukaemia’ book, because it’s very informative and what I tell you about ALL will mostly be coming straight from there. But in the meantime, I’d better give you a bit of an overview of what’s wrong with me. I will actually type stuff straight from the book, so I’m afraid there might not be many jokes. But thass ok! Plenty of time for jokes later.
What is leukaemia?
Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. White blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. Bone marrow is a spongy material that fills some of the bones and produces the cells (stem cells) which develop into the three different types of blood cells:
– red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all cells in the body
– white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infection
– platelets, which help the blood to clot and control bleeding
All these cells normally stay inside the bone marrow until they are mature enough to perform their functions properly. They are then released into the bloodstream so that they can circulate around the body.
White blood cells:
The bone marrow produces two main types of white blood cell: lymphocytes and myeloid cells (also known as granulocytes). These cells work together to fight infection. As some myeloid cells and some lymphocytes only live for a few days, the bone marrow is constantly making new cells to replace the old ones in the blood. When they are mature enough to leave the bone marrow, the white blood cells are released into the bloodstream to circulate around the body. Lymphocytes, unlike the myeloid cells, also circulate in the lymphatic sytem.
What is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia? [here’s the badger]
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is an overproduction of immature lymphocytes, called lymphoblasts (sometimes referred to as blast cells). Normally, white blood cells grow and divide in an orderly and controlled manner but in leukaemia the process gets out of control and the cells divide too quickly, but do not mature.
These immature cells fills up the bone marrow and prevent it from making blood cells properly. As the leukaemia cells do not mature, they cannot do the work of normal white blood cells, which leads to an increased risk of infection. Because the bone marrow is overcrowded with immature white cells it cannot make the right numbers and quality of red cells and platelets.
Approximately 600 adults are diagnosed with ALL in the UK each year. It occurs more frequently in children (under 15 years of age) than adults. When it occurs in teenagers or adults, ALL is most common between the ages of 15-25 and in people over 75 years of age. It is slightly more common in males than infemales.
What causes acute lymphoblastic leukaemia?
The cause of ALL is largely unknown, but research is going on all the time into possible causes. It is thought that ALL is due to a series of genetic changes in a particular group of immature blood cells. It is not fully understood what causes the genetic changes, but some types of infection may be involved. ALL, like other cancers, is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people. It is not caused by an inherited faulty gene so other members of your family are unlikely to develop leukaemia.
Symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
The main symptoms of ALL are caused by the increased number of ‘blast’ cells in the blood which reduces the number of normal blood cells. The main signs and symptoms are:
– unusual bleeding; caused by a reduction in the number of platelets. This may include bruising, bleeding gums, and frequent nose bleeds [nope]
– feeling very tired, even breathless, at the slightest effort [not really, I think]
– looking pale; this may due to anaemia caused by a lack of red blood cells [ah!]
– aching joints and bones; bones are affected by leukaemia cells [ow]
– feeling generally unwell and run-down; perhaps with a sore throat or sore mouth [I guess so, but no sore throat/mouth]
– having various infections one after the other, caused by a lack of healthy white blood cells [maybe, maybe]
Symptoms of ALL may appear very quickly over a few weeks, and treatment needs to be given as soon as possible. Remember, these symptoms are common to many illnesses other than leukaemia.
Right, that’s an overview of ALL and describes what’s wrong with me better than I could. I’ve cut bits that don’t seem so relevant, but it’ll all be on the web. These websites are recommended by my handbook; I’ve no idea which is best:
www.cancerbacup.org.uk (CancerBACUP, from which my info comes);
www.cancerhelp.org.uk (Cancer Research Campaign);
www.leukaemia-research.org.uk (Leukaemia Research Fund);
www.leukaemiacare.org (Leukaemia Care);
www.nelh.nhs.uk (UK National Electronic Library for Health);
www.nci.nih.gov (National Cancer Institute ‘ National Institute of Health ‘ USA); www.intelihealth.com (drug and medicines information).
I’ll post about treatment soon.