Leukemia Patients Have More Hope Than Ever

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November 13, 2013


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When you hear the word leukemia, your mind automatically goes to the past, when there was little hope of survival. Today, things have changed for many leukemia patients. 

Leukemia, a type of blood cancer defined by too many white blood cells, is different for each patient. The type of leukemia is determined by the abnormal circulating blood cells and the developing blood cells within the bone marrow. Most patients have the chronic variants like chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).  More aggressive forms of the disease (the acute leukemias), are more serious and sometimes fatal. 

“We usually do not know the reason one acquires leukemia,” says Dr. Steven Fein, a medical oncologist affiliated with Baptist Health. “In some patients, there is a pattern of cancer within the family.  Other times, leukemia may be a delayed effect of prior chemotherapy or radiation prescribed for other cancers. Most of the time, however, we cannot pinpoint a cause.”  The most important thing, according to Dr. Fein, is to move forward and look toward treatment instead of worrying about the cause.

In many cases, there are no symptoms pointing to chronic leukemia.  Your leukemia might be diagnosed by a simple blood test in your doctor’s office.  Others develop symptoms like fatigue, aches and pains, or swelling of the abdomen, leading one to be sick enough to go to the doctor or to the emergency room.  There a blood test may reveal that you have the disease, but a bone marrow biopsy may be suggested to confirm the diagnosis.

“For patients with CML or CLL, the modern era of anti-leukemia therapy is nothing short of a miracle,” says Dr. Fein, “there are now six approved treatments for CML, leading almost every patient to live life in remission.”  New studies suggest a possibility of curing this type of leukemia for some patients.  Similarly, for CLL, modern treatments have become more tolerable and promising for maintaining a good long life and staying healthy.  For those with acute leukemia, treatments have been more challenging, but promising new therapies are being tested.

Baptist Health South Florida is a proud sponsor of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Walk scheduled for Saturday, November 16.  Funds raised from the walk are used to provide patient support services, advocacy and cancer research.  For more information, visit the LLS website.

 

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