Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is a form of blood-based cancer created when myeloid cells in the bone marrow become cancerous. These cells are supposed to produce new red blood cells and some white blood cells, but they fail to do their job when a genetic mutation sets in.
It’s unknown what causes the chromosome change to trigger the development of leukemia. Unlike some other forms of leukemia, there’s no genetic link to CML.
This form of leukemia can set in rapidly or slowly. The slow developing type rarely causes symptoms until it reaches a late stage, while the more aggressive form is more likely to create noticeable signs. Both forms of chronic myelogenous leukemia share symptoms.
CML is caused when abnormal blood stem cells, known as myeloid cells, are produced in the bone marrow. The myeloid stem cells develop into one of three types of mature blood cells; red blood cells, platelets or white blood cells, the latter being the one which fights disease. If too many white blood cells are produced, the bone marrow becomes filled up with them with little room for other types of healthy blood cells. Over time, this means that healthy blood cells are unable to be produced.
It isn’t clear what causes this changes to occur during CML. We do know that certain people are at a higher risk of the disease than others. Males tend to get it more often than females, and the older someone becomes the higher their risk of CML becomes. It’s also known that people who have been exposed to high doses of radiation, for example if they have survived a nuclear reactor accident, are at a higher risk of CML.
Since there is a specific failure to produce proteins due to the chromosome issues in the myeloid cells, there is a medication that directly replaces that protein. However, this medication is only sufficient when you diagnose the disease in its earliest stages. Once the leukemia has advanced, chemotherapy is necessary to control the number of white blood cells circulating in the body.
Emergency chemotherapy and other blood treatments are necessary during a blast crisis, which is an acute form of this leukemia. It’s possible to cure chronic myelogenous leukemia with a bone marrow transplant from a matching donor.
Unlike many other types of cancer, there aren’t any lifestyle factors which are known to increase the risk of the condition which makes prevention impossible. Smoking, exposure to chemicals and infections do not seem to significantly influence whether or not an individual will be diagnosed with CML. CML doesn’t even appear to run in families, so there is little use in people seeking preventative treatments if their close relatives have had the disease.
Since radiation exposure is known to increase the risk of CML, it’s recommended to avoid radiation wherever possible. However, for the vast majority of people, the amount of radiation they will be exposed to is so minimal that it isn’t something to worry about. Only those who work in nuclear reactors are likely to be at risk of high radiation exposure, but even then it is only in the event of an accident that their risk could increase.