Myelogenous leukemia is a type of cancer that originates in the white blood cells created by bone marrow. The disease can attack a person of any age, although certain individuals are more prone than others. Once contracted, the disease will ultimately be fatal, if not treated.
Phases of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
Chronic myelogenous Leukemia (CML) is a rare condition. By chronic, it is meant that it progresses slowly in comparison to acute forms of myelogenous leukemia. The disease progresses through three phases, each more aggressive than the previous one. Your physician will determine which CML phase your body is in, by comparing the number of diseased cells to healthy cells in the blood and/or bone marrow. These phases are as follows:
- Chronic Phase: The earliest phase. Most often doctors diagnose CML when the patient is in this phase, and usually the cancer responds best to treatment at this point.
- Accelerated Phase: This is a transitional phase in which the cancer increases in aggressiveness.
- Blastic Phase: This is the most aggressive and severe CML phase. Patients in this phase who do not respond to treatment likely have only months, rather than years to live.
Causes and Symptoms
The symptoms of CML depend in part on the phase in which it is caught. In the earlier stages a patient may experience:
- Loss of appetite
- Paleness of skin
- Pain or a feeling of fullness under the ribs on the left
- Night sweats
- Skin rash
- Bleeding from the nose or gums
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained loss of weight
Many patients have CML for months, and even years, without experiencing obvious signs that something is wrong. It is very important that as soon as symptoms appear the patient seeks help.
Often a definitive cause of CML is never identified. However, a number of factors can contribute to the disease, including exposure to benzene and other toxic substances, age, being male, and exposure to radiation, such as for treatment of another form of cancer. It is worth noting that, unlike certain other cancers, family history is not a factor in the development of CML.
CML was the first cancer known to occur due to a genetic abnormality. A normal individual has 23 pairs of chromosomes. These together contain all the genetic markers that determine you, as a person, and control the cells in your body. Chromosomes 9 and 22, of patients with CML, essentially “swap” sections with each other. The result is that chromosome 22 is shorter than normal, and chromosome 9 is longer. The altered chromosome 22 was first identified by two scientists working in a laboratory in Philadelphia, and hence it bears the name Philadelphia chromosome. This chromosome instructs other cells to produce an overabundance of the protein tyrosine kinase, which in turn allows certain white blood cells to grow uncontrollably. The bone marrow, where blood cells originate, is damaged, and healthy blood cells overtaken.
Treatment of CML
Patients who have symptoms of CML will be given various tests to determine whether this type of cancer is present. These tests include a physical examination, blood tests, bone marrow test, and tests specifically designed to identify the Philadelphia chromosome. Generally treatment goals do not include a cure, for once the abnormal cells are present it is very difficult to remove all of them. If the patient has progressed into the accelerated or blastic phase, the treatment will initially attempt to bring levels of diseased cells down so that the patient returns to the chronic phase, where the cancer is much more controllable.
Certain drugs have been developed which target cancer cells. The tyrosine kinase proteins are specifically targeted. There are side effects to this drug treatment, including puffiness of the skin, nausea, muscle cramps, etc. Patients with advanced forms of CML may be given a blood stem cell transplant. However, this is generally a last resort, for this treatment carries numerous serious complications. During the transplant chemotherapy drugs are administered, and then the blood stem cells are infused into the bloodstream. The goal is that these healthy stem cells reproduce and replace the cancerous ones.
The outlook for patients with CML whose cancer is detected early is very promising. Nearly 90% are expected to live for five years or more. Over half of those who are given bone marrow or stem cell transplants live for at least 15 years. It is important to keep in mind, however, that generally patients are not ever considered cured, but in remission.
For Legal Assistance
If you or a loved one were exposed to benzene and has been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), immediately contact the Benzene Lawyers of Nadrich & Cohen, LLP. We will provide a free, no-obligation case evaluation. Call now, do not wait, as there are time limits for making a claim.