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CML Patients: Survivors Changing The Language of Cancer

By Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger
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Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia related image Andrey Armyagov/PhotoSpin

Patients with a rare form of cancer are changing the language of cancer, both in the way treatment is approached and the way patients connect with each other. These patients – and their medical teams and supporters – are viewed by many as the future of cancer care and patient advocacy.

While the mainstream media focuses primarily on cancer cases treated through radiation and chemotherapy, the oncology community now includes patients with “treatable” cancers managed through highly targeted drug therapies. These new treatments cause less harm to patients, are reducing cancer mortality and offer strong hope to those with other forms of cancer.

The term “treatable cancer” is used to describe those that can be addressed through targeted drug therapy which the patients take for the rest of their lives, much as diabetics must take insulin to remain healthy. The best example currently of a treatable cancer is CML, also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia and chronic myelocytic leukemia.

CML, one of the four leukemias, is a slowly progressing cancer of the blood and bone marrow characterized by an overproduction of white blood cells. Normal cells are formed, mature, function, die, and are replaced with new cells. With CML the normal blood cell production process is disrupted. The white blood cells produce uncontrollably and do not mature to carry out their intended function and ultimately crowd out the healthy cells.

CML was the first cancer for which scientists were able to identify the genetic anomaly involved - the Philadelphia chromosome. This discovery led to the development of the first targeted cancer therapy through the drug Imatinib Mesylate (marketed as Gleevec and Glivec). According to Newsweek magazine, this “is singlehandedly responsible for increasing the number of CML patients who survive at least eight years, from 20 percent in the past to 80 percent today. Gleevec must be taken forever, and so in that sense is a treatment more than a cure.” Newsweek also noted that some patients develop resistance to Gleevec, and two additional drugs have now been developed for CML patients.

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Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Lottie - Thanks for your comments and welcome to EmpowHER. I really like what you said - "I found my greatest advocate online, until I could stand on my own two feet. Life goes on and you want to be there."

I hope you will come back to the site and share more of your thoughts with us in the future.
Take care,

October 1, 2010 - 5:27pm
EmpowHER Guest

Changing the language of cancer is an excellent beginning for a new CMLer to start their learning process. You are never done learing about CML, as change is a constant. When someone says something about leukemia, we in the CML community want to know what kind of leukemia. I am glad that you have catagorized it, as each leukemia is different and certainly treated differently. I think the first thought I had was to go out into the community and find someone with CML to talk to, but I couldn't find anyone, and that is because it is the rarest of the leukemia groups, and only affects about 4000 people in the US every year. Only a few hundred are dying each year, which means we are living longer, thanks to the generous researchers who use their grant money to find newer treatments. Personally I would like to hear the word "cure" more often in context of learning more about new treatments, but until that comes along, we will live with the status quo. A good CML support group is the best place for a newcomer to start, as there are people who have been there and can calm your greatest fears. I found my greatest advocate online, until I could stand on my own two feet. Life goes on and you want to be there.
Excellent article, Pat.
Lottie Duthu

September 27, 2010 - 10:31pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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