Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Contributed by Avinash Ramchandani

Cancer. This dreaded word is translated as "death" in the minds of many people around the world. Cancer still is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. But more and more people now a days are surviving from cancer. Due to better technology and drugs, people can now survive more often than not with most cases of cancer.

Most cases of cancer occur with adults, but not all. One of the most treacherous forms of cancer, leukemia is the most devastating for children and teenagers, although it effects adults more often. Bewildered children and teens don't even know how one got the disease, but if one finds out they have it, even though they may have thought that they are immune to it or didn't know about it. But every year over two thousand children usually under the age of 16 are diagnosed with leukemia, a form of blood cancer.

Leukemia is divided into five different subcategories, each affecting people in different stages of life and different white blood cells. (White blood cells are the cells that fight diseases in the blood, the red blood cells are the cells that carry food and oxygen throughout the body) Seventy-five percent of all youth leukemias are categorized as Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). ALL actually directly effects the bone marrow in the body. Some cells in the bone marrow producing B and T lymphocytes (T lymphocytes are the cells that are also effected by the HIV virus that causes AIDS) are mutated. Because of the mutation these cells start reproducing at a rate much higher than normal cells. This causes mutated white blood cells to form. For many years people have been bedazzled by ALL and its effects, but slowly more treatments have been made and more people are surviving today.

Causes of ALL

The causes of ALL as well as most other cancers are not known completely till today, but strides have been made to identify several causes of cancer. Although ALL can be caused by genetic factors, it may also be caused by several other environmental factors including ionizing radiation exposure.

Ionizing radiation is usually caused by X-rays and gamma rays in nuclear explosions. The incidences of ALL as well as other leukemias increased significantly when X-rays were used without caution and five to seven years after the atomic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. More recently, the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, in the former Soviet Union has been monitored to see whether there is an increase in cancer cases within a certain radius of the accident.

Caring for ALL

Today, the rate for surviving ALL for the first five years is 55.6%. In the future scientists and doctors hope to get this close to 100%. Although the main-stay of killing leukemia and most other cancers is still localized chemotherapy with additional anti-cancer drugs. Another form of therapy is Radiotherapy of the nervous system. But the new generation of therapy involves a complete irradiation of bone marrow in the body followed by a bone marrow transplant.

The chemotherapy is not as effective as the bone marrow treatment, in which the success rate is very high. But the chemotherapy is still the mainstay of treatment because of the lack of cases in which a bone marrow transplant may be made.

There are many other therapies available from non-certified institutions, including Homeopathy, Naturopathy, and Antineoplastons, but these can be unreliable although cheaper.

Bone Marrow Transplants

Bone Marrow Transplants are done quite often today. The only restriction is to find a person with a matching bone marrow type. Usually a person in the family has a matching type of marrow as the patient, but sometimes this doesn't occur and the patient has to go to outside sources of donations. These donations are limited and not too many people know how one could get involved.

Many foundations have been set up in order to tackle the problem of lack of donors. These foundations and funds are all over the world. Contact numbers and information on how to donate is located below in this article.

Future Therapies

Future treatments and therapies may include new combinations of drugs and treatment regiment, some biological agents, and better techniques in bone marrow transplantation. Current therapies are being developed a bit more as new ones are being developed, including several potential vaccines for cancer.

How do I donate Bone Marrow?

Most Bone Marrow donation centers start with information regarding the whole process, which first includes taking a blood sample of 2-3 drops. Then the leukocyte antigen of the sample is determined. This is added into the donation center's main computer. Then a donor is contacted if the sample is matched with a patient. If the donor decides to donate, the donor can meet the patient. A small amount marrow is removed from the back of the pelvic bone by doctors. After this process it is injected into the patient.

The full recovery time for a donor is usually a week. But work may resume the day after the procedure is done. Usually a donor is in the hospital for one night.

For more information:

National Marrow Donor Program: 1-800-MARROW-2
American Cancer Society: 1-800-ACS-2345
American Red Cross: 202-737-8300
Leukemia Society of America: 1-800-955-4572
International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry: 414-257-8325
National Cancer Institute (Cancer Information Service): 1-800-4-CANCER

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