Society, GRU doctor work to cure leukemia

  • Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2013 9:27 p.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, June 10, 2013 8:22 a.m.
MCT PHOTO/ORLANDO SENTINEL/CY CYR
Steven Thompson, 18, of Ocoee, Fla., plays a video game during a hospital stay for leukemia treatments.
MCT PHOTO/ORLANDO SENTINEL/CY CYR Steven Thompson, 18, of Ocoee, Fla., plays a video game during a hospital stay for leukemia treatments.

About every four minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer. One of those cancers is leukemia, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“There are no known ways to prevent leukemia, (but) the LLS is working to find cures,” said Paul Jeter, executive director of the South Carolina branch.

One key way is through research.

Acute myeloid leukemia is one of the more fatal forms, according to Jeter.

Dr. Anand Jillella from the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center was assigned by the society to dig deeper into one of its subtype.

“The unique problem with acute promyelocytic leukemia is the high death rate seen during the first 30 days after diagnosis and starting treatment. (It) can be as high as 30 percent,” according to his report’s summary. “At GRU, from 2005 to 2009, ... 37 percent of patients died during the first 30-day period.”

Jillella’s research has allowed him to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia patients without casualties and has been used, with his help, by other doctors at remote sites.

He will be speaking at the Green Boundary Club on Wednesday at 6 p.m., along with Mark Roithmayr, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chief development officer.

Dinner will be served, so though the event is free, a RSVP is requested.

Jillella is the chief hematology oncology, bone marrow transplant and associate director for clinical affairs at GRU, and his project is funded for the next five years, according to a January release.

The cancer

Leukemia affects the blood and bone marrow.

There are four common types: acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, according to the society’s website.

Each type is named based on how the cancer started, whether the myeloid cell or lymphoid cell was affected and whether the disease started in a younger or older cell.

Acute myeloid leukemia is deadly because, if not treated immediately, it spreads very quickly and affects immature cells. It’s treatable, though treatment is difficult.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common cancer for ages 1 to 7 and has several subtypes. Most children are cured after treatment, but, without treatment, it will spread quickly.

Chronic myeloid leukemia has three phases: chronic, accelerated and blast crisis. Treatment is often effective in the chronic stage.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common form of leukemia seen in adults, progressing slowly or quickly depending on its form.

By the end of 2013, about 49,000 new leukemia cases will arise in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

Symptoms

The cancer can be hard to detect, depending on the type.

Some symptoms are tiredness, pale skin, excess bruising, aches in bones and joints and low white cell counts. But those are just for acute leukemia.

Those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia or chronic myeloid leukemia might not know they have it until after a blood test. Signs could however include, with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, enlarged lymph nodes in neck, armpit or groin, tiredness or, if it’s more severe, frequent infections. Those infected with chronic myeloid leukemia could experience shortness of breath, fatigue, enlarged spleen, night sweats and weight loss.

Anyone thinking he or she is infected needs to undergo a complete blood test and several other tests to pinpoint the type he or she has.

Treatment

To start treatment, the ideal doctor to see is a hematologist/oncologist like Jillella.

A person’s age, general health and subtype can all factor into how he or she is treated.

Chemotherapy is an option, especially those with acute leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Bone marrow transplantation might have to take place, such as with acute leukemia. Medication is an option, and new treatments are arising all the time.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society hopes Jillella’s work “will lead to a greater understanding of optimal treatment for (acute promyelocytic leukemia), ... and, ultimately, improve outcomes for patients with APL,” Richard Winneker, the society’s senior vice president of research, said in the January release.

“Trials ... change treatment paradigms, and you move to better and superior treatments,” Jillella said on his hospital website profile.

Cause, aftermath

All what doctors know about the cause of this cancer is that, once marrow cell transforms into a leukemic one, it may grow and last longer than normal ones. Then they spread and stop the development of regular cells.

How fast they do this and what cells they replace determines what leukemia the patients has.

Visiting the doctor regularly if you are not diagnosed or keeping up with treatment if you are is, as always, very important.

For more information, visit www.lls.org. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s South Carolina’s head branch is in Columbia. For more information or to RSVP for Wednesday’s event, call 803-731-4060.

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