What is leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer Overview of Cancer Cancer is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells are the tiny building blocks of your body. Cells specialize in what they do. For example, your intestines have muscle cells to... read more of white blood cells. White blood cells have many jobs, including helping your body's immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more fight off infection. White blood cells White Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more form in your bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside your bones.
With leukemia, you have a very high white blood cell count. However, the cancerous white blood cells don't work properly, so you're likely to get infections. Those infections may be life-threatening.
Also, the cancerous white blood cells fill up your bone marrow so it can't make normal blood cells such as:
Red blood cells Red Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more (causing anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is not having enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all of your other organs. Hemoglobin is the substance inside your red blood cells that... read more )
Normal white blood cells White Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more (increasing the risk of infection)
Platelets Platelets The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more (increasing the risk of bleeding)
There are many different types of white blood cells but only 2 main types of leukemia:
Lymphocytic leukemia: cancer of lymphocytes, which are one type of white blood cell
Myelogenous leukemia: cancer of all the other types of white blood cells
Lymphocytic and myelogenous leukemia can be acute or chronic:
Acute: cancer of young cells that spreads quickly and can cause death in 3 to 6 months if untreated
Chronic: cancer of mature cells that spreads more slowly
What is chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)?
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a type of slow-growing cancer of one of several different types of white blood cells. The cancer cells grow and spread into your blood and to other parts of your body.
CML happens most often in adults between ages 40 and 60
You may feel tired and have no appetite and lose weight
As the cancer grows, you may also be pale and bruise or bleed easily
Doctors find CML with blood tests and bone marrow exams
CML is treated with medicines called TKIs (tyrosine kinase inhibitors)
More than 90% of people treated early survive at least 5 years
CML has 3 stages:
Chronic phase: the first months or years when the cancer grows very slowly
Accelerated phase: the cancer begins to grow more quickly, treatments don’t work as well, and symptoms get worse
Blast phase: very young cancer cells called blasts show up and the cancer becomes much worse, with problems such as serious infections and bleeding
What causes CML?
CML is caused by a problem with one of your chromosomes. Each of your body's cells has 46 chromosomes. The chromosomes contain DNA, which determines how your cells work.
In CML, one of your chromosomes develops an abnormality. The abnormal chromosome is called the Philadelphia chromosome. It produces a substance that makes one type of white blood cell grow abnormally and out of control.
What are the symptoms of CML?
Early on, CML may cause no symptoms. When symptoms first appear, they may include:
Feeling weak and tired
Not feeling hungry
Sweating at night
Feeling a fullness in the upper belly (due to a large liver and spleen)
Later, you may become sicker and have symptoms such as:
Fever (from infections or the leukemia)
How can doctors tell if I have CML?
To tell if you have CML, doctors will:
Do blood tests
Do molecular testing to look for the Philadelphia chromosome
How can doctors treat CML?
Doctors treat CML with:
Medicines called TKIs (tyrosine kinase inhibitors)