What is Leukemia? Understanding Ondo’s Governor’s Death

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is dead. He died at the age of 67.

The news of his death emerged on Wednesday morning.

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The governor, who was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, died after a protracted battle with an undisclosed illness, though reports said he was battling leukemia.

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu

What is leukemia?

The term leukemia comes from the Greek words for “white” (leukos) and “blood” (haima).

According to Cleveland Clinic, leukemia is a cancer of the blood, characterised by the rapid growth of abnormal blood cells. This uncontrolled growth takes place in the bone marrow where most of the body’s blood is made.

Leukemia cells are usually immature (still developing) white blood cells.

Unlike other cancers, leukemia doesn’t generally form a mass (tumor) that shows up in imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans.

How leukemia develops

Leukemia begins in the bone marrow, the soft spongy tissue in the inner cavity of the bones, where the body’s blood cells are made. Blood cells go through multiple stages before reaching their fully mature forms.

However, if you have leukemia, one of the developing blood cells begins to multiply out of control. These abnormal cells — called leukemia cells — begin to take over the space inside of your bone marrow. They crowd out the cells trying to develop into healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

How leukemia affects the body

Having too many leukemia cells and too few normal cells is harmful because leukemia cells serve no purpose in keeping you healthy.

Normal blood cells have very little space and support to mature and multiply inside of your bone marrow because the leukemia cells overtake them.

Fewer red blood cells, healthy white blood cells and platelets are made and released into your blood. As a result, your body’s organs and tissues won’t get the oxygen needed to work properly. Also, your body won’t be able to fight infections or form blood clots when needed.

Types of leukemia

There are four main types of leukemia:

Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia in children, teens and young adults up to age 39. All can affect adults of any age.

Acute myelogenous leukemia is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults. It’s more common in older adults (those over 65). AML also occurs in children.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common chronic leukemia in adults (most common in people over 65). Symptoms may not appear for several years with CLL.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia is more common in older adults (most common in people over 65) but can affect adults of any age. It rarely occurs in children. Symptoms may not appear for several years with CML.

How common is leukemia?

According to the National Library of Medicine, leukemia is the 10th most common cancer in the world, accounting for 3.2 per cent of all new cancer cases. Leukemia can affect anyone, but it’s more common among people who are 45 to 65 years.

Leukemia Causes

Leukemia starts when the DNA of a single cell in the bone marrow changes (mutates).

DNA is the “instruction code” that tells a cell when to grow, how to develop and when to die. Due to the mutation or coding error, leukemia cells keep multiplying. All cells arising from the original mutated cell also have the mutated DNA.

Scientists don’t know what causes these developing cells to mutate. However, they have been able to identify some common mutations that people diagnosed with different types of leukemia share.

Leukemia Symptoms

Symptoms depend, in part, on the type of leukemia. For instance, if someone has a chronic form of leukemia, they may not have noticeable symptoms in the early stages.

However, common signs and symptoms of leukemia include fatigue, getting tired easily, fever or night sweats, frequent infections, shortness of breath, pale skin, unexplained weight loss, bone/joint pain or tenderness, pain or full feeling under your ribs on the left side, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, groin or stomach, an enlarged spleen or liver.

There can also be bruising and bleeding easily, including nosebleeds, bleeding gums, a rash that looks like tiny red spots in skin (petechiae) or purplish/darkened skin patches.

Leukemia Diagnosis

Results from routine blood work can alert your healthcare provider that you may have an acute or chronic form of leukemia that requires further testing, or they may recommend a workup if you have leukemia symptoms.

Leukemia Treatment

Treatment for leukemia depends on the type of leukemia, age and the person’s overall health, and if the leukemia has spread to other organs or tissues.

Common treatments often include a combination of the following: chemotherapy, immunotherapy (biologic therapy), targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and hematopoietic cell transplant.

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