World Leukaemia Day

“Many types of blood cancers are treatable now” – Dr. Bushra Ahsan (Consultant Clinical Haematologist, SKMCH&RC)

World Leukaemia Day is marked on the 4th of September to raise awareness on the subject and to strive for improved outcomes for patients suffering from this type of blood cancer. On this occasion, Dr. Bushra Ahsan, Consultant Clinical Haematologist at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Lahore said that leukaemia is a type of cancer which starts in the bone marrow, leading to the over-production of abnormal white blood cells. Leukaemia has different types that can be classified according to the type of white cell affected (myeloid or lymphatic) and the way the disease progresses (acute or chronic).

Commenting on the prevalence of leukaemia in Pakistan, Dr Bushra Ahsan informed that leukaemia is ranked as the second commonest type of cancer seen at the facilities of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust over the past two decades. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia is common in children, especially young boys. Fortunately, due to advances in medicine, 70-80% of this type of cancer is completely treatable.

Early diagnosis of acute leukaemia is challenging, according to Dr Bushra Ahsan, for two main reasons. First, lack of public awareness on the subject which leads to delays in patients seeking medical advice. Second, doctors cannot diagnose leukaemia with one simple blood test and if they do not investigate further with relevant tests then the diagnosis can be missed. If white blood cell count, platelets and haemoglobin levels are significantly abnormal then physicians should order special tests such as bone-marrow biopsy, genetic or molecular tests. These tests not only help in establishing a diagnosis for leukaemia but also in determining the specific type of leukaemia.

“People should not lose hope at the diagnosis of leukaemia. At our hospital, we offer comprehensive treatment for various types of blood cancers including leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Treatment of these cancers depends on the type of blood cancer. In complicated cases where aggressive treatment is required, we also have the facility of bone marrow transplants. In this case a lot of blood and blood products are required and we are able to fulfil this demand with the help of volunteer blood donors,” she added.

In her message for the public, Dr Bushra Ahsan said, “There are no specific causes identified for acute leukaemia however, people can reduce their risk by avoiding radiation, smoking, and exposure to certain industrial chemicals. Therefore, the best prevention is adopting a healthy life-style and early detection. In case of any symptoms suggestive of leukaemia, such as pale skin, fatigue, unusual bleeding, easily bruised skin, high temperature and so on, people should seek medical advice immediately.”