Leukemia Chronic Myelogenous Questions

A diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia comes as a shock to many people, mostly because the condition produces so few symptoms. Fortunately, survival rates for CML are high due to advances in leukemia treatment.

Most people diagnosed with CML have many questions about leukemia. Your doctor or oncologist is the best person to provide specific answers to your leukemia questions. The following are common questions about leukemia you may wish to ask your doctor in order to gain a better understanding of your condition.

Q: What is CML?

A: Chronic myelogenous leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. In most cases of CML, a chromosome abnormality known as the “Philadelphia chromosome” triggers over-production of abnormal white blood cells that eventually crowd out healthy blood cells.

Initially, chronic myelogenous leukemia progresses slowly, causing few symptoms. This “chronic stage” can last for several years. Without treatment, the disease eventually enters an aggressive “blast” phase, when diseased blood cells accumulate rapidly.

Q: How advanced is my leukemia?

A: Once diagnostic tests confirm CML, other leukemia questions can then be answered. Your doctor can tell you if the cancer is in its slow-moving chronic phase or has moved into the blast phase. He may refer to the blast phase as a “blast crisis,” which is another name for the most aggressive phase of the disease.

Q: What is my prognosis?

A: Of all questions about leukemia, this is perhaps the most pressing question for patients. Chronic myelogenous leukemia once had a very poor prognosis, with survival rates averaging three to five years, according to the CMPD Foundation (2009).

CML survival rates have improved dramatically with the introduction of imatinib therapy, a targeted cancer drug. Prognosis is most favorable for people diagnosed in the chronic phase of CML.

Q: What treatments are available?

A: For most people in the chronic phase of CML, imatinib is the first-line treatment. Imatinib is a kinase inhibitor drug that targets proteins that trigger abnormal cell production. Imatinib greatly slows leukemia progression. People who do not respond to imatinib may receive treatment with different kinase inhibitors.

Bone marrow transplantation can cure CML, but this procedure is invasive and carries certain risks. Bone marrow transplants are generally used when other treatments fail. Other possible treatments for CML include interferon therapy and chemotherapy.

Q: Can I get a second opinion?

A: Any good doctor will not be offended if you ask for a second opinion about your diagnosis. If you have leukemia questions your doctor cannot answer, or simply want to be absolutely certain about your diagnosis, a second opinion is well worth considering.

Q: What’s the difference between being in remission and being cured?

A: As you ask questions about leukemia, you may be curious about the difference between remission and cure. Remission means leukemia cells either cannot be found by diagnostic tests, or are present in such tiny amounts that no symptoms develop. CML in remission can actually return, or relapse, and may require further treatment. The only treatment that can truly cure CML is stem cell transplantation, but the procedure is risky.

Resources

CMPD Foundation. (2009). Frequently asked questions about chronic myelogenous leukemia. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.mpdinfo.org/faq/faq_cml.html.

Healthline Networks Inc. (2010). Frequently asked questions about leukemia. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.healthline.com/sw/cfa-frequently-asked-questions-about-leukemia.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Chronic myelogenous leukemia. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chronic-myelogenous-leukemia/DS00564.