The word leukemia comes from the Greek words of “Leukos” and “Heima,” which means white blood. and refers to the excess white blood cells in the body. Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow and comprises a broad spectrum of diseases. It is characterized by abnormal production and multiplication of blood cells in the body, normally white blood cells. Blood cells grow in the bone marrow and divide to form new cells in the body as per the body’s requirements (old cells die and have to be replaced by new cells). However, when old cells do not die and body cells divide rapidly, producing more and more cells in the body, then the problem of cancer.
In people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces a large number of white blood cells that are known as leukemia cells or leukocytes. In the initial stages, the leukemia cells function normally. However, over time they begin to saturate the blood cells and make it difficult for the blood to carry out its work. The body’s ability to fight infections is reduced. In some cases, the number of leukemia cells or leukocytes are so high that the blood actually has a whitish tone.
The discovery of leukemia
The merit of its discovery goes to the ancient Greeks, who recognized in this way the disease of the blood in the fourth or fifth century. However, he was officially diagnosed by John Hughes Benett in Edinburgh in 1845. In addition, in the 19th century, several European doctors realized that a good number of their patients suffered from abnormally high levels of white blood cells . This condition, which means white blood, is called “Weisses Blut.”
In 1913, leukemia is classified into four types:
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (erythroleukemia)
In addition, in 1970 it was confirmed that leukemia can be cured, and by the 1980s and 1990s patients were cured at around 70%. This raised the hopes of all patients worldwide. People have been fighting cancer for a long time, with the difference that they did not know the details against which they were fighting.
Today, the number of children who are affected by this disease is very high. The reason can be attributed to the changes in life that have come along. An important reason is that the percentage of mothers who breastfeed their children has dropped dramatically. During breastfeeding, the child’s immune system meets the antibodies of the mother’s body and evolves to respond to infections after birth. However, children who have not been breastfed are more likely to develop leukemia, since they do not face microbes in their early years.
Industrialized nations are more susceptible to leukemia because people residing in those nations are constantly in contact with chemicals such as high levels of benzene and formaldehyde (in workplaces). Radiation exposure through the explosion of an atomic bomb or medical treatments such as chemotherapy and the large amount of pesticides are also the risk factors that can lead to leukemia. People suffering from Down syndrome are also prone to this blood disease.
The oldest and primary treatment for leukemia was arsenic. In the 18th century, Thomas Fowler created a solution comprising arsenic trioxide and potassium bicarbonate, and called it Fowler’s solution. This solution became a standard remedy for the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease, anemia and leukemia. However, in the 20th century, arsenic is replaced by radiation therapy. Radiation therapy was found to be very beneficial in the cure of leukemia.
The American Cancer Society says that the first radiologists used the skin of their hands to test the radiation strength of radiotherapy machines in search of adequate doses (to obtain pink skin after radiation) , which was going to be the right amount for the treatment. Unfortunately, most of them got sick with leukemia.
It was only after World War II that chemotherapy entered as a treatment for leukemia. In addition, in the 1940s more and more new treatments, such as aminopterin, 6-mercaptopurine, 6-mercaptopurine was produced. The discovery of DNA has helped to understand the detailed mechanisms of cancer and the reasons why they occur. Bone marrow transplants are known to be the best cure for leukemia today. Genetic analysis is expected to open new doors to treatments and cure for leukemia in the future.
Leukemia at a glance is a cancer of the blood cells and, although the cause of this disease is not known, the risk factors that lead to it have been identified. People have to be very careful with the amount of radiation and the chemicals that are being exposed.