Causes and symptoms of chronic myeloid leukemia

Causes and symptoms of chronic myeloid leukemia

Chronic myeloid leukemia is a form of cancer that affects the White Blood Cells (WBCs) in the bone marrow. Chronic means the disease grows and spreads gradually, comparatively slower than acute forms of leukemia. This type of cancer is usually diagnosed in older adults and is rare among children, but it can affect people at any age. This article discusses the condition’s causes and symptoms, understanding which can facilitate early diagnosis and ensure timely treatment.

What causes chronic myeloid leukemia?
This form of leukemia develops due to a genetic mutation. While it isn’t quite understood what sets it off, how it progresses to cancer has been discovered.
Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. In people with chronic myeloid leukemia, a part of the 9th chromosome switches places with a section of the 22nd chromosome, resulting in an extra-short 22nd chromosome (aka the Philadelphia chromosome) and an extra-long 9th chromosome. The Philadelphia chromosome is found in up to 90 percent of chronic myeloid leukemia patients.
The DNA swapping between the two chromosomes leads to the formation of a new fusion gene called BCR-ABL. BCR-ABL causes the myeloid cells to produce an abnormal enzyme called tyrosine kinase, which allows WBCs to grow uncontrollably. These abnormal WBCs multiply rapidly and do not leave room for the healthy cells, leading to the development of chronic myeloid leukemia.

What are the symptoms of chronic myeloid leukemia?
Chronic myeloid leukemia shares symptoms with several other conditions, making diagnosis difficult. Additionally, the condition may not always cause symptoms and is usually detected in a blood test. That said, the signs may include the following when they do appear:

  • Fatigue or weakness
    A person may experience tiredness, fatigue, and shortness of breath while doing everyday activities.
  • Abdominal swelling
    Patients may experience abdominal discomfort and swelling, usually in the upper left part of the abdomen.
  • Fullness
    One may experience bloating in the stomach or feel full despite not having eaten much.
  • Anemia
    The cancerous cells replace the bone marrow’s healthy blood-making cells, leading to a Red Blood Cell (RBC) deficiency that causes anemia.
  • Other signs
    Other symptoms of chronic myeloid leukemia include itching, bone pain, fever, night sweats, and easy bleeding.

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