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Adult-Onset Leukemia

We distinguish adult leukemia from pediatric because the diseases and their treatments are different. Today, childhood leukemia patients have a very high rate of response and cure; while the adult forms of this disease continue to pose more difficult challenges. For that reason, we focus our testing on adult disease forms.

Leukemia is a group of diseases that affect the development of blood cells in the bone marrow. The type of cell affected and the rate of cell growth determine the leukemia type.

Types of Leukemia

  • Acute Lymphocytic (Lymphoblastic) Leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of leukemia in children, but it also occurs in adults. ALL is caused by an overproduction of immature lymphocytes. In adults, the risk of developing this disease increases after age 50.
  • Acute Myelogenous (Myelocytic, Myeloblastic, Myeloid or granulocysts) Leukemia (AML) affects the granulocytes in the bone marrow. In AML, these cells do not mature normally. The bone marrow becomes filled with blasts, which inhibit the production of normal cells. This is the most common form of leukemia in adults.
  • Chronic Lymphocytic (Lymphoblastic) Leukemia (CLL) is the second most common type of adult-onset leukemia and is found most often after age 50. This type occurs when the bone marrow and lymph organs produce too many mature lymphocytes. Their overabundant production crowds out other cells and can collect in the blood, bone marrow, spleen and lymph node tissue. CLL typically progresses slowly and can take years to display any symptoms.
  • Chronic Myelogenous (Myelocytic, Myeloblastic, Myeloid or Granulocytic) Leukemia (CML) occurs in people with an acquired genetic abnormality that causes a portion of one chromosome to break off and re-attach to another chromosome. This exchange, called a translocation is known as the Philadelphia chromosome. This mutation is found only in blood-forming cells and is not inherited. The resulting transformation prohibits normal growth of myeloid cells, which causes the bone marrow to accumulate too many white blood cells and platelets, but may decrease the amount of red blood cellss. The disease presents in a slow growing form known as chronic phase but then progresses to accelerated and blastic stages over time.

Common Treatments for Leukemia

The first-line of treatment for ALL and AML is chemotherapy and for recurrent cases, some oncologists recommend bone marrow transplants. With CLL, chemotherapy and radiation therapies are also employed, with some professionals recommending blood and bone marrow transplantation.

Interferon oral Hydrea (hydroxyurea) and oral Myleran (busulfan) were the first treatments for CML But with the cause of CML now known, researchers have developed a targeted therapy called Gleevec (imatinib), which focuses on the aberrant protein. This therapy must be taken continuously in order to be effective. Some physicians recommend transplantation for younger patients with this disease.

Leukemias are among the most chemo-responsive forms of cancer. While the specific drug combinations vary by disease type, the anthracyclines (doxorubicin, daunorubicin and idarubicin) plus cytarabine are widely used in both AML and ALL, while methotrexate, L-asparaginase, prednisone and vincristine are widely used only in ALL. In CLL, fludarabine, rituxan and alkylating agents like cytoxan and chlorambucil are mainstays of therapy.

These protocols, developed over years of clinical trials, assign patients to the drugs for which they have the greatest statistical probability of response. The fact that all patients with leukemia have an equal likelihood of response to a drug does not mean they will respond equally.

Rational Therapeutics exposes living cancer cells, obtained from your blood sample, to a variety of chemotherapy drugs and novel compounds. A treatment regimen is recommended based on actual observed patterns of cell death.

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