The State of Blood Cancers: A Patient’s Perspective

Not too long ago I had the privilege of sitting in on a seminar in the Texas Medical Center on the State of Blood Cancers. It was sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and presented by MD Anderson, along with speakers from Houston Methodist Hospital.

While I don’t want this post to read like a cancer research white paper, I do want it to come across as informative and educational, especially to those who have some form of cancer, and for their caregivers. Herein I’ve presented my version of a synopsis of what I learned that morning, and I’ve provided in PDF several handouts they distributed that may be of help to some of you.

** In one of the more interesting comments, Dr. Ronald DePinho, President of MD Anderson, said that the super computer of IBM known as Watson, in a continuing effort to discover cancer-fighting solutions, absorbs information on thousands of cancer patients so that a treatment can be further explored. I thought that was just kinda cool.

** Dr. Courtney DiNardo of MD Anderson Cancer Center related that cancer evolves from a single, renegade cell and its advancement develops over time. When the question of heredity arose, she indicated that studies have shown the possibility of passing this disease on to others is very low.

** Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju, from MD Anderson, spoke on AML. Acute myeloid leukemia, also known as acute myelogenous leukemia or acute nonlymphocytic leukemia (ANLL), is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. AML is the most common acute leukemia affecting adults, and its incidence increases with age. It can affect any part of the body. Terrific!

Some of the treatments and drugs just becoming available today weren’t even on the radar screen some 20-odd years ago. That’s how far we’ve come.

** “Leukemia,” as referred to by Dr. Swaminathan Iyer, Houston Methodist Hospital (and my oncologist), “is a genomic disease.” His specific topic was acute lymphoblastic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL). This is an acute form of leukemia, or cancer of the white blood cells, characterized by the overproduction of cancerous, immature white blood cells—known as lymphoblasts.

Normal Blood vs Leukemia Image


** In persons with ALL, lymphoblasts are overproduced in the bone marrow and continuously multiply, causing damage and death by inhibiting the production of normal cells—such as red and white blood cells and platelets—in the bone marrow and by spreading (infiltrating) to other organs. ALL is most common in childhood with a peak incidence at 2–5 years of age, and another peak in old age.

Dr. Iyer went on to say that Imbruvica and Zydelig are two FDA recently approved cancer drugs that are showing great results. I’ve been taking Imbruvica for several months now. While these drugs show great promise in cancer treatment, there is no cure yet for any type cancer. The only “cure” to date would be a stem cell transplant option. This is still considered to be sort of a last ditch option with high risk, but high reward – if it takes.

** Dr. Sai Ravi Pingali of Houston Methodist spoke on the advancements of both CLL (the type of leukemia I have) and CML. CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia) and CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) are both cancers that originate from immune-system cells, but that is essentially where their similarities end.

** CML also tends to affect younger individuals on average when compared with CLL. In addition, the cancer cells of the vast majority of patients with CML exhibit a well-characterized genetic abnormality. This abnormality brings one portion of one chromosome together with a completely different chromosome. In contrast, CLL can be driven by a number of mutations that occur at the same time.

** Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that starts from white blood cells (called lymphocytes) in the bone marrow. It then invades the blood. Leukemia cells tend to build up over time, and many people don’t have any symptoms for at least a few years. In time, it can also invade other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen. Compared with other types of leukemia, CLL usually grows slowly.

Symptoms of Leukemia


Symptoms of CLL include night sweats, weight loss, anemia, and increased white blood cell count. Also, lymph glands swelling and an enlarged spleen and liver come with the territory. All of these I had present when I was first diagnosed.

Today, there are more drugs available for effective treatment and in some cases are the preferred treatment rather than the traditional chemo therapy.

More information can be obtained via these handouts in PDF:

7 Ways to Manage Fatigue001

Financial Resources001

Patient Distress Chklist001


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