Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells found in the blood. This serious disease is often fatal. Leukemia is caused due to either of the 2 abnormal white blood cells:
- Myeloid white blood cells are made in the bone marrow from where they travel through the bloodstream destroying foreign organisms.
- Lymphoid white blood cells are located in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system.
Chronic leukemia is a situation where the disease progresses slowly. Acute leukemia is indicated by a sudden onset and is more likely to affect children and young people.
A person suffering from leukemia noticed repeated infections and unexplained bruising. There is a tendency to feel fatigued and anemic. Other symptoms include loss of weight and fever. Aching joints and bones are yet another symptom of leukemia. Symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia appear very rapidly. A detailed blood test is taken for diagnosing leukemia. When it shows an abnormal number of abnormal white blood cells, it is indicative of leukemia. A bone marrow biopsy is taken to help classify the leukemia.
Treatment for leukemia includes radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immune therapy and bone marrow transplantation. Chemotherapy treatment uses cytotoxic drugs to kill abnormal cells thereby stopping their further division. But the fallout of this procedure is that often normal body cells such as those in the hair and skin are also killed. Bone marrow transplant is carried out only on children and younger patients. Marrow cells from a donor, who is generally a sibling, is replaced in the patient.
Hematologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating ailments related to blood, and blood systems such as bone marrow, vascular systems etc. They deal with conditions such as anemia, leukemia etc. Hematologists should be strong in the field of internal medicine, anatomy, physiology, and bio-chemistry too. A hematologist completes medical school and undergoes internship for three years in the field of internal medicine and further specializes for two years in the field of hematology. Few hematologists are also trained Oncologists, who treat problems related to blood cancer. Hematologists are specialists in treating blood disorders and anything to do with blood. They :
- Interpret blood test results by studying the blood films and bone marrow films under the microscope.
- Treat blood disorders like hemophilia.
- Treat cancerous conditions linked to the blood like leukemia, lymphoma etc.
- They deal with blood transfusion sciences etc.
- They deal with bone marrow aspirations, bone marrow biopsy, chemotherapy etc. in a few cases they also prescribe medications for anemia etc.
- Hematologists handle computerized diagnostic equipment and complicated bio-chemical analyses with proficiency and ease.
Modern techniques used in the field of hematology
- Diagnostic equipment with latest computer technology helps in drawing clear conclusions on the disorders of the blood.
- Various bio-chemical analyses help in understanding the condition of the blood and related problems in a better manner.
Immune responses in the human body play a major role during disease or abnormality. The immune system responds according to the stimulus it receives from the brain either to fight a pathogen or to eradicate an unwanted cell in the body. Immunotherapy enhances or suppresses the immune system to act on the respective disease. Immunotherapy varies in types depending upon its administration requirements. In case of allergic reactions or autoimmune diseases, immunotherapy is used to suppress the immune response to control the adverse reactions caused by allergens and abnormal proteins.
Types of Immunotherapeutic Agents
Immunotherapy is selective for each disease. There are many types of immunotherapeutic agents available. Some are used to enhance the immune system in facilitating the process of phagocytosis and some are used to block the allergic reactions and autoimmune responses of the body.
Monoclonal antibodies which are prepared in the lab are used as anticancer agents. These antibodies are unique as they target specific locations of the cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can used in many ways depending upon the type of case. Some monoclonal antibodies can be used directly without any additives. Some are coated with a radioactive material or an additional anticancer drug to act on the cancer cells. These antibodies adhere to the target cell thus interfering with the cancer cell activity.
Many conditions such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia have US FDA approved immunotherapy drugs. Rituxan and Campath are the first monoclonal immunotherapy FDA approved drugs in treatment of cancer. The common side effects noticed in the administration of monoclonal antibodies both as single and conjugated forms include fever, headaches, nausea, rash, low red blood cell count as it interferes with the marrow and also liver disorders. Monoclonal antibodies conjugated with radioactive material in case of radio immunotherapy may trigger severe allergic reactions.
Cytokines such as interferon and interleukin are generally used as immunotherapeutic agents because of their involvement with cell signaling pathways. They are naturally secreted by the body and they are also called nonspecific immunotherapeutic agents. They are predominantly used in treating infections, cancers and tumors. Alpha interferon is widely used in the treatment of cancers such as T-cell lymphoma, Chronic myelogenous leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphomas. They inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells by interfering with the growth factors.
Interleukins are also used in the treatment of cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia and mylomas of various origins. Interleukin 2 (IL2) is a widely recommended agent for myelomas. Interleukin and interferon therapies have side effects such as extreme fluid accumulation, fever, chills and dizziness. Cytokine therapies based on lymphocyte infusion can cause graft versus host disease leading to the destruction of host cells by the induced lymphocyte cells.