Leukaemia: Why is it deadly & what's the outlook / prognosis?
Why is leukaemia a deadly cancer? How can patients survive leukaemia?
There are two groups of leukaemia - acute and chronic leukaemia. Chronic leukaemia in general has good prognosis and can be treated with chemotherapy free approach. However, in acute leukaemia, this is still a challenging disease to treat albeit with better outcomes in recent years. Older patients always recognise leukaemia as a cancer where “the white cells eat away the red cells” – a deadly disease.
Acute leukaemia is a cancer of the white cells where the white cells grow excessively without control. The white cells are high while the red cells and platelet are low. Acute Leukaemia is deadly if not treated or when patients present late with complications of the disease.
Acute Leukaemia can be deadly because of complications such as
- Tumor lysis causing kidney failure or even heart issues.
- Fever and Infection due to low immunity
- Stroke or heart attack due to excessively high white cells or due to anaemia.
- Bleeding due to low platelet and as certain leukaemia increases the risk of bleeding
These are the possible complications when patient seek medical attention late. Hence, I do encourage patient with prolonged fever or bleeding to seek medical advice earlier
Treatment of acute leukaemia needs chemotherapy once confirmed. Patients need to be admitted and monitored closely for possible complications such as infection as their immunity is very low during treatment. Infection can be complicated and patients may lose their battle if infection is not treated aggressively.
Fortunately, with improved accuracy / speed of diagnosis; better support with intensive care and newer infection medication, acute leukaemia is not as deadly as we knew previously. Newer technology also helps to recognise certain important genetic mutation which enable doctors to use targeted therapy in the management. Newer targeted treatment also improves on the outcomes of acute leukaemia and make treatment more tolerable.
It is important to educate the public on this disease so patients will seek medical advice early. Patients and their family must stay optimistic, support each other and work together with their physician during this difficult period to fight their blood cancer and survive leukaemia!