Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) is a serious and life-threatening disease that can impact anyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial and may improve a patient’s chances of recovery and quality of life. September is global Blood Cancer Awareness Month, culminating in World CML Day on Friday, 22 September – making it an ideal time to spread awareness and help save more lives.
CML is a rare form of cancer affecting on average two persons per every 100 000 people each year. This disease impacts blood-forming cells within the marrow and is caused by a genetic mutation. This mutation in the BCR-ABL gene leads to abnormal cell growth and division. CML can progress slowly or quickly, and it can affect people of any age, but it is more common in older adults.
“Empowerment begins with awareness. Understanding the signs and symptoms of conditions like CML is crucial. By fostering a culture of awareness, we can pave the path to early diagnosis, transforming uncertainty into knowledge, and fear into proactive action. Together, we hold the key to unlocking better outcomes and brighter futures for those affected,” says Dr Darren Katzman, Head of Medical Affairs at Novartis South Africa.
Remaining aware of symptoms
Being aware of CML symptoms is essential for early diagnosis and effective management. Common symptoms include, among others, unexplained weight loss, persistent fatigue, bone pain, fever, breathlessness, abnormally pale skin, regular infections, and early satiety.
While these symptoms can be indicative of CML, it’s important to note that they are not exclusive to this condition and can mimic other less serious health issues. Regardless, if you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, it’s vital to consult a healthcare provider for a comprehensive evaluation. Timely diagnosis and intervention play a crucial role in managing CML and enhancing the overall quality of life for those affected by this condition.
The CML treatment journey
Early detection is the linchpin of effective CML management. Detecting the disease in its early stages allows healthcare providers to intervene swiftly, curbing the abnormal proliferation of white blood cells and preventing the disease from advancing. Early diagnosis not only improves treatment outcomes but also enhances the patient’s overall quality of life by minimizing the impact of advanced-stage symptoms.
Once diagnosed, the next critical step is the induction of remission, which involves initiating treatment to restore a healthier balance of blood-forming cells within the bone marrow and bloodstream. The cornerstone of this phase often revolves around targeted therapy using tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). By inhibiting the activity of the tyrosine kinase enzyme that drives the abnormal cell growth, TKIs offer a highly effective treatment approach with fewer side effects as compared to traditional chemotherapy.
As the patient enters the maintenance phase, the focus shifts towards maintaining the achieved remission and preventing disease progression. The treatment objective is to keep the disease under control while minimizing side effects and preserving the patient’s quality of life. Regular monitoring through blood tests, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, helps healthcare providers assess the response to treatment and make any necessary adjustments.
A focus on quality of life
While effective, treatments can sometimes lead to side effects that impact various aspects of a patient’s life. Balancing disease management with overall well-being is a shared goal between patients and healthcare providers, shaping the trajectory of the CML journey.
Healthcare providers tend to work closely with patients to manage side effects, address their emotional and psychological well-being, and ensure that the chosen treatment plan aligns with the patient’s preferences and needs. The diagnosis and treatment journey can trigger a range of emotions, including anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Therefore, by recognizing the importance of mental health, healthcare providers can integrate psychosocial support into the treatment strategy.
Support groups, counseling, and resources for coping with the emotional aspects of CML can also prove invaluable in helping patients maintain a positive outlook. This holistic approach acknowledges that addressing emotional well-being is integral to achieving a good quality of life.
Amidst the challenges of managing CML, maintaining a sense of normalcy and pursuing everyday activities is crucial. Healthcare providers can work with patients to address any limitations posed by the disease or its treatment. Encouraging physical activity, adhering to a balanced diet, and engaging in hobbies and social interactions all contribute to a sense of normalcy and well-being. The goal is to empower patients to lead fulfilling lives despite the challenges they face.