Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

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What is chronic myelogenous leukemia?
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is a type of bone-marrow cancer. It is a fairly common form of leukemia, but overall is an uncommon type of cancer. The term chronic, in reference to this type of leukemia, means that this cancer typically develops at a slower rate than other forms of acute leukemia. Chronic myelogenous leukemia results in too many white blood cells.

There are more than 20,000 cases of chronic myelogenous leukemia in the United States. Close to 5,000 new cases of CML are diagnosed each year. Most cases of CML are diagnosed in adults; however, a small percentage of patients with CML are children.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia is also referred to as chronic myeloid, chronic granulocytic, or chronic myelocytic leukemia.

What are the symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia?
The symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia can develop slowly and are symptoms that may be common to other illnesses. Some common symptoms of CML include fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin, feeling run-down, easy bleeding, loss of appetite, fever, frequent infections, a pain or feeling of fullness on the left abdomen under the ribs, and sweating during sleep.

To diagnose chronic myelogenous leukemia, doctors will perform physical exams, use blood and bone marrow tests, and test for the presence of the Philadelphia chromosome.

What are the causes of chronic myelogenous leukemia?
When CML occurs, something in the development of blood cells changes. It has not been determined what causes the changes to occur. Doctors have determined that when CML develops in patients, their blood chromosomes have changed and essentially swapped places. There is an extra-short chromosome that is created, which is called the Philadelphia chromosome. This particular chromosome is identified in about 90 percent of patients with CML. This chromosome is not passed genetically from parent to child.

In addition to the presence of the Philadelphia chromosome in CML patients, there is the potential that exposure to high levels of radiation, as well as to the chemical benzene (a colorless or light colored, sweet smelling chemical used in manufacturing or created when burning fuels), can lead to a development of chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Factors that may increase a person's risk for developing chronic myelogenous leukemia include older age, being male, and exposure to radiation or benzene.

What are treatments for chronic myelogenous leukemia?
Chronic myelogenous leukemia may be treated with drugs, a blood stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, biological therapy, or treatments being tested in a clinical trial. The goal of treatments is to eliminate the blood cells that contain the abnormal gene that causes the development of too many white blood cells. While it is typically impossible to completely eradicate all diseased cells, treatment can help put the disease into long-term remission.

What can you do if you think benzene exposure may have caused chronic myelogenous leukemia?
While doctors are not sure what causes CML, is is known that benzene is a carcinogen and has been linked with bone marrow and blood diseases. Benzene is a chemical that occurs naturally, such as when fossil fuels are burned. In addition, benzene is used in various manufacturing processes and the makeup of certain household products, including cleaning solvents, paint, and plastics.

If you have experienced long-term benzene exposure because of your occupation, or other circumstances, and have been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, it may be beneficial to contact an attorney.

Legal professionals familiar with the effects of exposure to the chemical benzene will guide you through the steps you need to take to take legal action.