If you're in the later phases of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), there are many ways you may feel. Some people have a fever, lose their appetite, and drop a few pounds. But others don't have any symptoms.
No matter how your disease affects your body, make sure you get the emotional backing you need. Talk to your friends and family, and keep up with contacts you've made in support groups. They can be huge sources of help while you manage your health.
Even if you don't have any symptoms, it's important to have regular visits to your doctor. They may do blood tests that can check if your chronic myelogenous leukemia -- also known as chronic myeloid leukemia -- has moved into an advanced phase.
Why Does CML Get Worse?
For most people with CML, medications prevent the disease from moving to its advanced phases.
But it can still happen if you don't take your meds, if your disease was already advanced when doctors found it, or if your body stops responding to the medication you're taking.
The Accelerated Phase
The chronic phase of CML is the easiest to treat. But if your disease advances, you may be in what is called the accelerated phase. When this happens, abnormal blood cells and platelets, which help stop bleeding, begin to crowd out normal ones.
Several gene glitches cause that. You can also be in this phase if you get very high or low platelet counts or high white blood cell counts that don't improve with treatment.
What Is CML Blast Crisis?
You are in the blast phase when blast cells -- immature white blood cells -- make up more than 20% of your blood or bone marrow -- the place in your bone where blood cells are made.
During this period, infections and bleeding are common and can be life-threatening if they're not treated. Fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue can get worse.
Treating Accelerated or Blast Phases
If you're in an advanced phase of CML, your treatment tries to lower the number of cells that have the BCR-ABL gene, which is involved with the process that tells your body to make too many cancerous white blood cells. The goal is to return your disease to the chronic phase or put it into remission. That doesn't mean your cancer is completely gone, but it's less active than before.
If you're taking a TKI (tyrosine kinase inhibitor) and your disease continues to advance, your doctor may switch you to a new one or suggest another type of drug or chemotherapy.
At this point, there are limits to what TKI therapy alone can do. It can slow down the disease in these phases, but it can't cure it.
You could talk to your doctor about whether you might need a stem cell transplant, the only treatment that can cure CML.
Use Your Support Network
Your doctors are also part of your support team. As you follow their medical advice, you can ask them about resources, like support groups or counseling for people with advanced CML. Tap into your network of close friends and family for advice and help.
Researchers are always looking for new ways to manage chronic myelogenous leukemia. Talk to your doctor to see if a clinical trial, where you might be able to try experimental treatment, is a good idea for you.