The disease

What is Leukaemia?

Blood is the red fluid that circulates in our blood vessels, these are veins and arteries and capillaries. Nearly half the volume of blood consists of cells, which include red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Blood cells are produced in bone marrow. The remainder fluid is called plasma which carries the blood cells. These are red blood cells, white cells and platelets. The red blood cells carry oxygen to all the cells in our bodies. White cells are of two types, lymphocytes and myelocytes (often called neutrophils) – they protect us against infections. Platelets are the plugs that stop bleeding.

There are two types of Lymphocytes

  • B lymphocytes that make antibodies to help fight infection.
  • T-lymphocytes that help B lymphocytes make the antibodies that help fight infection.

Leukaemia is a cancer of the white cells. As blood cells are made in the bone marrow, Leukaemia prevents the production of normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Leukaemia may come from lymphocytes, in which case we call the disease Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or ALL. When they occur from myeloctes, it is known as Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. In leukaemia, there is a steady increase in the number of immature white cells. These cells take over the bone marrow production and red blood cells and platelet production decreases. Leukaemic cells expand to the blood stream and enter other organs such as liver and spleen, lymph nodes, brain and spinal cord and testes.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is the most common type of childhood Leukaemia. Acute Leukaemias progress quickly. As the number of leukemia cells increases in the blood and bone marrow, there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may lead to infection, anemia, and easy bleeding.