There are two forms of Leukemia with many different subsets. The Chroni Myelogenous Leukemia type affects primarily older adults above the age of 64. There is an estimated 5000 new cases that are diagnosed each year.
The disease is two times more likely to affect white males than any other demographic group and is almost never diagnosed in children (ALL is the type of Leukemia that is most likely to be diagnosed in a child).
50% of cases are diagnosed in adults over the age of 65.
What Is It?
Any type of blood cell can transform into a leukemia cell. In CML the disease is very slow moving and can take years before any symptoms are noticed. In cases of CML the white blood cells are able to mature as opposed to ALL where the white blood cells are not able to mature but they still appear abnormal looking under the microscope.
The problem with CML is not in the cell development but that they cells do not die off as normal cells do which means they cannot be replaced with healthy cells. Eventually over years the Leukemia cells will crowd out the normal healthy cells.
Leukemia can affect the ability to fight infection, produce healthy blood to feed organs and wreak havoc on the organs over time.
CML is very slow growing but it is harder to treat than its faster moving counterpart. ALL is harder to contain but is much more treatable than CML and even easier to recognize.
The risk of developing CML is increased by the simple act of aging. The risk is 100% higher for white males than it is for females of any race. The risk factor also increases if there has been an exposure to radiation throughout the life time.
There are no other known risk factors for developing this disease. While development of other cancers has been linked to diet, smoking, lifestyle and overall general health none of those factors play a role in developing CML.
There are only two increased risk factors aging across all populations and being a white male.
Treatment does not include prevention for this type of cancer. Most cancers can be semi preventable by making lifestyle changes but since there is no correlation between lifestyle and the onset of CML there are no lifestyle adjustment recommendations to prevent the disease.
There is no early detection testing that is recommended either. In many cases the diagnosis is stumbled upon during testing for other disease. Treatments for CML include treatment with the anti cancer drug Gleevix which began in 2001. The long term study information is not yet available but 90% of patients that began treatment in 2001 are still alive. After 13 years 90% of the patients treated with Gleevix are without cancer cells.
Treatment options are almost always inclusive of chemotherapy drugs, radiation or stem cell replacement surgery.
The cure rate is very high for this type of Leukemia. CML is very treatable and most patients withstand the treatment well up to 90%. Before Gleevix the survival rate was still pretty high with 80% of patients surpassing the 10 year mark of survival.
In many cases, because CML mainly effects older adults age 65 and older the patient dies from another age related disease still free of cancer. There are newer targeted therapies that are also available for certain types of CML that offer a reduction in side effects although there is still side effects they are less and are tolerated better by most patients.
CML is typically treated by phase. The Chronic, Accelerated and Blast phases all require different interventions. In some cases when it is discovered very early on the treatment may be a wait and see treatment. In other words there is no treatment initially. Many doctors feel confident enough in the slow growth of the early chronic phase of the disease to not jump feet first into treatment where the side effects can cause more problems then the disease itself.
Many people do not experience any symptoms until the Accelerated or Blast phase which is when diagnosis is made. Typically treatment initially is not as aggressive as it is with other cancers.
CML does not get a lot of research dollars when compared to other types of cancer. It may be because of the population that is effects or it may be because it is a slow growing cancer that has a very high success rate for long term survival.
There is still that is not a lot known about CML although there has been some ground breaking drug discoveries that has helped in treatment. As genetics is better understood and more targeted treatments become available the onset and treatment of CML will become easier and more successful.