Leukemia: Early detection increases survival rate

leukemia cancer
leukemia cancer

By Benprince Ezeh

ALTHOUGH Leukemia is not among the common ailments in Nigeria, it is quite deadly. It is in the group of blood cancers that usually begin in the bone marrow and result in high numbers of abnormal blood cells. These blood cells are not fully developed and are called blasts or leukemia cells. The symptoms include bleeding and bruising, feeling tired, fever and increased risk of infections.

According to medical experts, the exact cause of leukemia is unknown and that makes it to difficult to notice it on time. However, a combination of genetic factors and environmental (non-inherited) factors are believed to play a role. These also include smoking, ionizing radiation, some chemicals (such as benzene), most especially people with a family history of leukemia are also at higher risk of it.

In 2015, leukemia was present in 2.3 million people and caused 353,500 deaths and also in 2012, it newly developed in 352,000 people. It is the most common type of cancer in children, with three quarters of leukemia cases in children being the acute lymphoblastic type. However, about 90% of all leukemias are diagnosed in adults. It occurs more commonly in the developed world, but gradually increasing in Africa and Nigeria at large.

Abia Nzelu
Abia Nzelu

Abia Nzelu, Executive Secretary, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, CECP, Nigeria said that leukemia has a 94 percent rate in Nigeria, meaning that only one out of every 20 Nigerians with leukemia survives. “It’s one of the four most deadly cancers in Nigeria. The other common cancers with a death rate of over 90 percent in Nigeria are liver, pancreatic and stomach cancers.

“The Nigerian leukemia situation is unfortunate because, it is now curable. For instance, the Tata Cancer Centre in India has a 99 percent survival rate for leukemia, in sharp contrast to the current situation in Nigeria,” he said.

According to Nzelu, one of the causes of leukemia is family history. “As usually it runs in the blood. The other cause is smoking, which increases the risk of developing Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, AML, genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome. Also chemotherapy or other medicines that weaken the immune system could cause leukemia,” he said.

He warns that youths should desist from excess smoking to avoid it.

Emmanuel Enang, a doctor with the Federal Medical Center, FMC, Abeokuta said that the symptoms of leukemia are vague and non-specific. “This is partly responsible for the late detection and high mortality in Nigeria.

“It is therefore important for everyone to be aware of these symptoms and to report promptly to the hospital for evaluation. The symptoms include: paleness, weakness, shortness of breath and tiredness; recurrent infections as well as bleeding and bruising. Other symptoms are fever, malaise (feeling unwell), swollen lymph glands and excessive sweating.

“In children, there may be pain in bones or joints. There may also be swelling of the belly due to enlargement of the liver of the spleen (an organ of the immune system found just under the ribs on the left hand side),” he said.

Enang also gave some insights on treating leukemia when dictated early. “Treatment for leukemia can be complex depending on the type and other factors. However, there are strategies and resources that can help to make your treatment successful. Treatment depends on many factors.

“Your doctor determines your leukemia treatment options based on your age and overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether it has spread to other parts of your body, including the central nervous system.”

Felicita ogbu
Felicita ogbu

Felicita Ogbu, a doctor said that Leukemia symptoms are often vague and not specific.

“You may overlook early leukemia symptoms because they may resemble symptoms of the flu and other common illnesses.

“Rarely, leukemia may be discovered during blood tests for some other conditions. It is advisable that you see your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you,” she said.

According to her, a diagnosis of leukemia may be devastating, especially for the family of a newly diagnosed. Ask your doctor about your leukemia, including your treatment options and importantly, your prognosis.


– Oct. 13, 2019 @ 18:40 GMT |


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