By Dr. Sajjan Rajpurohit,Oncology
Leukemia is simply termed as blood cancer that involves the bone marrow. Bone marrow is a sponge like material that is located in the middle of your bones. Stem cells located inside the bone marrow help in the production of blood cells.
Leukemia is caused by the abnormal growth of blood cells in the marrow that result in crowding out of the healthy cells. Therefore, healthy normal cells get replaced by abnormal blood cells that do not carry the necessary functions. However, the pace at which these occur varies depending on the type of leukemia you have. Acute leukemia progresses rapidly and needs timely treatment but chronic leukemia progresses more slowly and does not show any symptoms in the initial period. Classification can also be made based on the type of cells affected. This type of leukemia is generally categorised as lymphoctic and myelogenous.
Treatment for leukemia will generally involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery and depends on the type of leukemia you have- whether it is acute, chronic, lymphoctic or myelogenous. One of the possible side effects of treatment is anemia. Anemia is characterized by low red blood cells in the blood. Red blood cells are important to carry oxygen from the lungs to every body part and tissue. The normal level of hemoglobin in women is 12 grams per deciliter of blood (g/DL) and in men it’s 15 g/DL. Mild anemia is not a cause of worry but when it causes other symptoms like fatigue, headache and dizziness, then doctors generally administer iron supplements to patients.
Almost all cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy develop anemia with levels ranging from mild to severe. Moreover, the type of chemotherapy, the stage of cancer and the overall health of a patient determines whether they will develop anemia or not. Chemotherapy drugs target and kill blood cells in the body irrespective of them being abnormal or not. In leukemia, the bone marrow becomes particularly sensitive to chemotherapy and loses its ability to make new blood cells. As a result, when red blood cell count drops, you develop anemia. However, in general, anemia is caused by iron or vitamin deficiency in an individual. It should also be noted that anemia can appear as a symptom of leukemia. In such cases, treatment of leukemia may increase the severity of anemia and cause the person more harm resulting in dizziness, shortness of breath, pale skin, frequent infections, nosebleeds, bleeding gums and others.
Whatever be the cause of anemia, it should be treated immediately and proper measures should be taken. However, your doctor may also give you blood transfusion or erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAS). However, there are debates on the effectiveness of these two treatments and possible side effects. Talk to your doctor and clear any doubts that you have regarding leukemia and anemia.