Leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells. These cells are made by the bone marrow and are an important part of the body’s defence against disease and infection. Bone marrow is a spongy material that is found in the middle of some of our bones.
There are few different types of leukaemia. They are broken down into either acute or chronic leukaemia. Within these two types there are more types depending of which type of white blood cell is affected.
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
Acute myeloid leukaemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
Chronic myeloid leukaemia
Hairy cell leukaemia (this type is less common)
How does leukaemia affect blood cells?
Our blood is made up of different types of cells, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. It is the job of bone marrow to produce all these blood cells properly and with the right balance of different types of cell. With leukaemia, the bone marrow produces too many white blood cells and the cells do not act as they should do.
How does leukaemia affect you?
The specific symptoms of leukaemia vary according to the type you have. General symptoms across all different types include:
Getting ill a lot
Bleeding more than usual e.g. Having a nosebleed that takes a long time to stop.
These symptoms can often be caused by other illnesses so it’s important to see your GP if you’re worried.
Treatment and Recovery
Leukaemia can be treated in hospital with:
Chemotherapy- anti cancer drugs that can be given directly into the blood.
Steroids – can be taken as pills or injected
Radiotherapy- uses x-rays to kill the cancerous cells.
These treatments can have a range of side effects such as hair loss and heart issues. Generally, people continue to feel poorly as they have treatment and do not start to feel better for a number of weeks after it finishes.
Many people go onto live for years after treatment for leukaemia, but it depends entirely on the type that you have.
More help and information
If you know someone with leukaemia, all you can do is be there for them. It will be a difficult time for them, but having people they can talk to can help.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides lots of information on their website about all the different types of leukaemia. You can also call the Macmillan team for free support 0808 808 0000 on Monday to Friday 9am-8pm.
Cancer Research UK also have lots of information about Cancer on their website and you can speak to a cancer nurse on 0808 800 4040.