This Article is About
chronic myeloid leukemia
blood cancers
white blood cell
medication treatment
oral medication
dollar question
Will I Die From Chronic Myeloid Leukemia?
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Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) is one of four major types of leukemia. Leukemia is one of a number of blood cancers. Groundbreaking discoveries have been made in the last 10 years in the treatment of CML. Due to the major advancements in medication treatment patients no longer hear the devastating prognosis of, "You have 4-8 years to live." Today patients are more likely to hear that this illness is well managed with oral medication and you will likely live a long normal life and will die from something other than CML. This article will outline briefly what the disease is and what treatment will be.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia develops when two chromosomes change and form what is known as the Philadelphia+ Chromosome. Two chromosomes #9 and #22 actually break in half and switch (translocate) one end of their chromosome with the other. Scientists and physicians, still to this day, can not determine what promotes or initiates this breaking and translocation between these two chromosomes. When asked why this happens they answer, "that is the million dollar question!" Unless, you have had regular doctor checkups over the years it is difficult to pinpoint when the change in chromosomes occured.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia is most often diagnosed in adults. There is only a 5% incidence of CML in children. The median age is 45-55 years of age and half of CML patients are older than 60 years. CML occurs at about 1-2 persons per 100,000 so we see 4500 or so new cases per year. Often CML is diagnosed unexpectedly at a regular doctors visit and from a routine blood drawn. The give away piece of information for the physician is an extremely high WBC (white blood cell count). The normal range for WBC is 5000-11,000. Often when diagnosed a persons WBC result will be well over 100,000. This simple blood draw provides a quick and highly suspicious diagnosis. At this point the Primary Care Physician (PCP) will have you consult with a physician specializing in Hematology/Oncology. The Heme/Onc specialist will take an in depth history and physical, then will require that you endure a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration from which a definitive diagnosis will be made. It will take a couple days for the biopsy and aspiration results to return from pathology at which time the physician will meet with you and make plans for treatment. Remember now that these days treatment is simple and highly effective!

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia has three phases: chronic, accelerated, and blast phase. Back 10 years ago and earlier one could expect to be in the chronic phase for 3-5 years. The disease would then accelerate and medications would no longer help. The leukemic cell would multiply rapidly within the blood marrow. WBC would reproduce at faster and faster rates quickly crowding the bone marrow and making it impossible for the red blood cells, and platelets to produce normally. Without the bone marrow functioning properly the body will quickly begin to deteriorate and death would soon follow. But again, treatments have advanced and people will enjoy a long "healthy" chronic phase while taking their daily medication.

Current standard treatment is an oral medication called Imatinib (generic) Gleevec (brand). People often see remarkable close to normal or normal levels in there lab results after the first 90 days. During the initial weeks and months blood work will be drawn often to monitor your progress and your blood levels. Gleevec does have some side effects and initially it can drop your hemoglobin and hematacrit to a level considered anemic. So again new patients are monitored closely.

The discoveries made with this line of medication over the last several years has injected the world of drug research with a nice dose of optimism and excitement. The medical world is not ready to say they have a cure for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia just yet. However, as long as CML patients faithfully take their daily dose of medication all statistics show that they are living very healthy lives beyond 10 years with only a very minimal amount of the Philadelphia + chromosome showing in their blood.

No one wants to hear they have Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. But if they do hear they have CML know there is nothing to fear. Treatment is not difficult. Treatment is highly effective and your prognosis in most cases will be "you have a lot of life to live - go live it!"

Author: Kris Galvin, RN and CML patient of 8 years.

Street Talk


hi kris ive been at chronic stage for 12 years now xx

  about 9 years ago
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