Most cancers originate in a specific part of the body, such as the lung, breast or brain. Leukemia is different in the sense that it is a cancer of the blood, as McLeod Oncologist James Smith, MD explains:
Here is a summary of Dr. Smith’s comments:
Leukemia is a disorder of the system that produces the white blood cells. Basically there is a disruption of the cut-off system that regulates the normal creation of while blood cells. Consequences of this disruption include too many white blood cells. Occasionally, we can see too few white blood cells. We might also detect a disruption or problems with the production of the red blood cells or hemoglobin and platelets.
Symptoms of leukemia vary from nonspecific type symptoms, such as fatigue and weight loss to bleeding and symptoms of anemia in more severe cases.
The majority of patients diagnosed with leukemia have no identifiable cause or precipitating factor. One risk factor we find in leukemia patients is a history of significant radiation exposure. We also see an increased risk in patients that have had chemotherapy. The older we get the higher the risk of acquiring something, such as leukemia, because these cells have been dividing for many years and then have become disrupted. So increased age increases the risk of leukemia.
There is also a difference in the types of leukemia. Acute leukemia is one that develops at a much faster pace, compared to the chronic leukemia. There are two types of chronic leukemia, depending on the cell of origin: CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukemia) or CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). We treat these two types very differently.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia has a very targeted treatment option that has been developed over the last several years. In this type of treatment, the goal is to identify the type of mutation or DNA change that drives this process so it can be used in treating the cancer.
The treatment has also dramatically changed. In the past it was along the lines of chemotherapy. Now, we have a very targeted treatment option that has remarkable results as far as response rates, survival and outcomes in those patients.
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