Stem Cell Therapy Has the Potential to Help Leukemia Patients

Stem Cell Therapy Has the Potential to Help Leukemia Patients

Leukemia is common cancer that affects the blood cells of patients, most often the white blood cells. It can weaken the immune system and potentially lead to death. There is no cure for leukemia, but cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy have been known to help in some cases. Stem cells are being considered as a potential treatment for patients suffering from leukemia.

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. In leukemia, abnormal blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. Usually, leukemia involves the production of abnormal white blood cells, which are the cells responsible for fighting infection. However, the abnormal cells in leukemia do not function in the same way as normal white blood cells. The leukemia cells continue to grow and divide, eventually crowding out the normal white blood cells. The end result is that it becomes difficult for the body to fight infections, control bleeding, and transport oxygen.

There are different types of leukemia, based upon how quickly the disease develops and the type of abnormal cells produced. Leukemia is called acute leukemia if it develops rapidly. Large numbers of leukemia cells accumulate very quickly in the blood and bone marrow, leading to symptoms such as tiredness, easy bruising, and susceptibility to infections. Acute leukemia requires fast and aggressive treatment. Chronic leukemias develop slowly over time. These leukemias may not cause specific symptoms at the beginning of their course.

If left untreated, the cells may eventually grow to high numbers, similar to acute leukemia. Leukemias can be further classified as myeloid or lymphoid, depending upon the type of white blood cell that makes up the leukemia cells. A basic understanding of the normal development of blood cells is needed to understand the different types of leukemia. Normal blood cells develop from stem cells that have the potential to become many cell types. Myeloid stem cells mature in the bone marrow and become immature white cells called myeloid blasts. These myeloid blasts further mature to become red blood cells, platelets, or certain kinds of white blood cells.

Lymphoid stem cells mature in the bone marrow to become lymphoid blasts. The lymphoid blasts develop further into T-cells or B-cells, which are special types of white blood cells. Myeloid, or myelogenous leukemias, are made up of cells that arise from myeloid cells, while lymphoid leukemias arise from lymphoid cells. Knowing the type of cell involved in leukemia is important in choosing the right treatment.

How Can Stem Cells Help Patients With Leukemia?

Fighting cancers in the blood can be extremely difficult and limiting. The chemotherapy will kill the cancerous blood cells but can damage the bone marrow to a point that it cannot produce any new blood cells to replace the dead ones. Stem cell therapy is able to transplant new and healthy white blood cells into the blood of leukemia patients. This increases the white blood cell count of patients, aiding their immune system to fight cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy.

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