Chronic myeloid leukemia begins just like acute myeloid leukemia, i.e. with the cancerous (leukemic) change in the population of neutrophils – white blood cells that are produced in the bone marrow. Abnormal cells are uncontrollably multiplying, so they flow into the bloodstream where their number may rise up to 20 times more than normal. Some of these neutrophils can still perform the function of protecting the body from infection, so reduced resistance is not a characteristic of this disease.
But, as leukemia cells spread to bone marrow, they prevent normal production of red cells. Neutrophils often infiltrate and increase various organs such as spleen, lymph glands and liver.
A person suffering from this disease feels generally weak, slim and loses appetite, and may sweat in the night. In addition, because of the enlarged spleen, a person can feel ”tightening” in the upper left part of the abdomen. A small number of red blood cells are causing symptoms of anemia, and in some cases increased lymph glands in the neck, under the armpit and in the groin can be felt.
Chronic myeloid leukemia is very rare – only 1 per 100,000 people dies from this disease per year. This disease is affecting equally both men and women, and usually develops in middle ages and old age. The disease usually ends in death within two to three years. A person with any of the symptoms described must contact a doctor who will undergo a review and refer to the blood test. Bone marrow biopsy is also included among the additional tests.
The disease is incurable, but the therapy allows the patient to live a fairly normal life. Most patients can be treated outpatient. However, if a patient has severe anemia, he will have to occasionally stay in the hospital for blood transfusions.
The basic treatment consists of taking the cytostatic tablets for four to six weeks.
This will restore normal bone marrow production and relieve the symptoms. It is said that disease is, in this case, in remission. However, the patient’s condition is carefully monitored and new blood tests are performed every two to four weeks. Over a period of several months (up to a year), the number of white blood cells will begin to increase again.
If this number is rapidly growing or re-evolving symptoms of anemia, a new medication is being given. In the end, the disease will no longer react to a particular drug, so another, similar drug, will be applied. However, from that time, the patient falls into frequent relapses, so he will have to take the medication permanently. After a while – for about three years – the disease can no longer be controlled by drugs.