Monday, January 24, 2011

(Not so) Fun-a-day 24: Leukemia

I've been avoiding today's block, as it's probably the cell we med techs dread seeing the most.  But it's also among the most critical things we see under the microscope.  Leukemia is a cancer of the blood, or bone marrow (where the blood is made).  There are many different types, depending on the blood cell line that it originates in.  I "drew" acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  The cells are what we call "blasts", or very early immature lymphocytes.  They have nuclei that are really open and lacy, and very little cytoplasm (the light blue).  There are also typically many, many of them, and they all look very much alike.  Because they multiply unchecked, they can exclude other types of cells.  The white cell count can also skyrocket.

The absolute worst cases are those involving children, especially when we are the first ones to diagnose it.  We hate that call to the doctor or nurse, knowing a patients' life is about to be turned upside down.  Luckily there has been much improvement in the care of leukemia patients, and hopefully that trend will continue.  Unfortunately it's the most common cause of cancer in children, and is much too common in both children and adults.  Among the few dozen blogs I follow, I can think of at least 2 who have family or friends battling this cancer right now.  It's certainly something I personally saw much too often in the lab, as just one case is too many.  I dream of a day where leukemia and all cancer has a permanent cure.

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