Baekho, lead singer of NU’EST, one of South Korea’s famous boy groups, revealed on his Instagram post last April 8 that his father was diagnosed with acute leukemia. The lead vocalist was very straight in asking fans’ assistance for blood donation cards.
Leukemia is cancer of the blood which arises from the development of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow and lymphatic system. This can be characterized as acute or chronic depending on how fast the disease gets worse. In the case of Baekho’s father, it was identified to be acute myelocytic leukemia (AML).
AML is characterized by growth and spread of immature white blood cells called as blast cells. Other primary types of leukemia are Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), and Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
White blood cells are body’s natural defense against infection. People with leukemia develop abnormal and fast-growing white blood cells which put patients on high risk of developing infection, bleeding, and anemia.
Leukemia can be diagnosed in different ways. A physical examination may suggest swollen lymph nodes and liver and spleen enlargement. Routine blood examination is one of the common laboratory procedures that can determine abnormal cell growth and chromosomal abnormalities. More complex procedures like biopsy and bone marrow test can confirm presence of leukemia cells.
Common signs and symptoms include frequent and persistent bleeding, bruising, and infections, sudden and unexplained weight loss, fever, chills, sweating, fatigue, bone pain, appearance of petechiae or tiny red spots in the skin, and night sweats.
The cause of leukemia is unknown. However, several factors increase one’s risk of developing the disease. Risk factors include family history of leukemia, genetic and chromosomal abnormalities, smoking, exposure to radiation and chemicals such as benzene, and previous cancer treatment.
The treatment process for leukemia is based on the type of leukemia, patient’s age, extent of disease, and patient’s overall physical condition. Stem cell transplant is one known method of leukemia treatment. Through this procedure, the affected bone marrow is replaced with a good one that will allow reconstruction and repair. This treatment may not be recommended for patients with old age.
Chemotherapy, the most common treatment for cancer including many types of leukemia, uses single or multiple drug combination to kill abnormal white blood cells. Radiation therapy is another method frequently used to kill and prevent spread of leukemia cells in preparation for stem cell transplant. Supportive treatment for maintenance includes antibiotics to fight infections, blood-forming factors, and blood replacement.
According to Leukemia Research Foundation, there are more than 310,000 Americans living with leukemia which causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under the age of 20; however, leukemia is diagnosed 10 times more often in adults than children. Every day 143 Americans are diagnosed with leukemia and 66 lose the fight. (Leukemia-research.org)
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society reveals surprising statistics of leukemia. In their website, it was stated that leukemia ranked fifth in the most common cause of cancer deaths in men and sixth most common in women in the United States.
“However several important differences should be highlighted in lymphoma and leukemia. In the present study, the most significant improvements in survival were observed in leukemia and lymphoma patients, but the survival rates for leukemia and lymphoma were noticeably lower than in the U.S. and Germany. This reason for this difference in the survival rate by ethnic was that the incidence cases of subgroup of leukemia and lymphoma was different between U.S. AYAs and Korea AYAs. More, ethnic disparities in tumor biology and clinical factors may influence cancer treatment and survival. Compared with the survival of patients aged 1 to 10 years, overall survival and disease-specific survival are clinically significantly poorer among AYA patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The survival rates for leukemia among the Korean AYAs in our study have remained worse than among Korean children based on data from the KCCR.” (Cancer Incidence and Survival among Adolescents and Young Adults in Korea, May 1, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096088)
More clinical studies are being conducted to discover better diagnostic, treatment, and maintenance systems, improve patients’ quality of life, and decrease mortality rate due to leukemia.
Ibrutinib was found to be a potential leukemia treatment. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reports significant survival period improvement through the use of the said drug.
Another study shows significant progress in understanding the pathophysiology of acute myelocytic leukemia (AML). Researchers have found out different forms of AML which might require different clinical treatment methods. These findings can be utilized to help doctors and scientists determine better treatment procedures for leukemia patients.