Breakthrough Drugs Have Made Leukemia a Curable Cancer

By Komaroff, Anthony | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Breakthrough Drugs Have Made Leukemia a Curable Cancer


Komaroff, Anthony, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


DEAR DOCTOR K: My uncle was recently diagnosed with leukemia. I'd like to learn more about it.

DEAR READER: Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects the body's blood cells. Almost every type of cell in our body can turn cancerous, and blood cells are no exception.

Every day, each of us makes millions of new blood cells -- red blood cells, white blood cells, and the cells that make platelets (little cell fragments that help blood to clot). Blood cells are made in the marrow of bones.

Blood cells have a relatively short life. Red blood cells last about 120 days. That's why we need to make so many new cells every day. However, when a cell turns cancerous, it doesn't die. As a result, the number of cells in the bone marrow and in the blood start increasing.

The most common types of leukemia involve one of the two major types of white blood cells: lymphocytes and myelocytes. These cells help the immune system fight off viruses, infections and other invading organisms.

Leukemias arising from lymphocytes are called lymphocytic leukemias. Those arising from myelocytes are called myeloid, or myelogenous, leukemias. Leukemia is either acute (comes on suddenly) or chronic (lasts a long time). There are four major types of leukemia:

-- acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)

-- acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

-- chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

-- chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)

People with leukemia often go to the doctor complaining of fever, fatigue, bleeding or sore gums, nosebleeds, frequent bruising, or aching bones or joints. …

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