Leukaemia is a malignant proliferation of white blood cell precursors by the bone marrow. It results in the uncontrolled increase in the production of leukocytes and/ or their precursors. As the tumour ( cancerous) cells enters the blood the total leukocyte count is usually raised but in some cases it may be normal or even low.
The proliferating immature Leukaemic blast cells croud out other blood cells formed in bone marrow, causing anaemia, thrombocytopenia and leukopenia (pancytopenia). Because the leukocytes are immature when released, immunity is reduced and the risk of infection high.
1. Ionizing radiation - radiations from for example, x-rays and radioactive isotopes causes malignant changes in the precursors of white blood cells.
2. Chemicals- some chemicals, eg benzene, cytotoxic drugs and asbestos, generates mutations in the DNA of white blood cell precursors in the bone marrow.
3. Genetic factors - identical twins of Leukaemia sufferers have a much higher risk than normal of developing the disease.
Types of Leukaemia
These types usually have a sudden onset and affect the poorly differentiated and immature blast cells. They can be aggressive diseases, especially in older people. The rapid progress of bone marrow invasion quickly causes bone marrow failure and culminates in anaemia.
Acute myeloblastic leukaemia
(AML) It involves proliferation of myeloblastic, and is most common in adults between the ages of 25 and 60, the risk gradually increasing with age. The disease can often be cured or long-term remission achieved.
These conditions are less aggressive than the acute forms and the leukocytes are more differentiated, i.e at the "_cyte" stage. Leukocytosis is a feature of chronic leukaemia:there is crowding of the bone marrow with immature and abnormal leukocytes, although this varies depending on the form of the disease.
Chronic myeloid leukaemia
It occurs at all ages. Although it's onset is gradual, in most patients it eventually reaches a rapidly progressive stage similar to AML and proves fatal. It is caused by an abnormality of chromosomes 22 and 9 ( Philadelphia chromosome). Death usually occurs within 5 years.
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