In late February this year, former actress Jackie Forster revealed in an Instagram post that her three-year-old daughter Caleigh has been diagnosed with leukemia. She called upon family and friends to storm heaven with prayers that her child would be strong and to recover.
"Our dearest Caleigh has leukemia and she has started chemotherapy yesterday, this will be a long battle but it’s a battle We Will Win!” Jackie said. “She has been through a series of tests and transfusions the past 3 days so I would just like for us to pray together for her journey to be as easy as possible on her and that Victory will be ours!”
How exactly does one, especially a child, become afflicted with leukemia? What does it do to the body? How is one treated for it? We sought the advice of experts to shed light on this matter.
What is leukemia?
“To understand this entity, one must look at the normal function/physiology of the blood,” says Dr. Manolito H.Libongco, MD, FPCP,FPSHBT, a consultant in internal medicine, adult blood cancer and diseases.
“Blood is composed of three kinds of cells that have a life span with their particular functions, 1) red blood cells which deliver oxygen from the lungs to the different organs and tissues, 2) white blood cells which put up the defense of the body against infections, and 3) the platelets which plug up holes in the circulatory system to avoid loss of blood.”
Our bone marrow (our blood factory) normally produces trillions of blood cells each day to replace those which have died and have been used to maintain homeostatis, our body’s sense of equilibrium, explains Dr. Libongco. But when this system is disrupted, it will then cause leukemia.
“Leukemia develops when progenitor (ancestor or parent) cells mutate and lose its control mechanism to stop dividing,” he illustrates. “It divides into numerous useless immature cells (younger versions of the white blood cells) called ‘blast’. These cells are ravenous, having the capability to grab nutrients from the normal cells and grow and multiply until they overcome the bone marrow.”
“The myelocytic type is the most common in adults. Acute lyphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the type that is common in children and carries a significant cure rate with treatment.”
How do you get leukemia?
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You can get leukemia when you’re exposed to chemicals or radiation that may have caused your DNA to mutate. “Benzene-containing chemicals, industrial solvents, and alkylating (DNA-damaging) substances are some examples,” expounds Dr. Libongco. “Avoiding cancer-causing habits, like smoking, can also prevent the development of this dreaded disease.”
Are there risk factors we should take note of?
“There have been risk factors that were noted [in past studies],” says Dr. Sally Gatchalian, pediatrician and director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, “like constant exposure to insecticides or, in some cases, a previous, severe infection. But generally, [it is] more genetic [in nature].”