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Chronic myelogenous leukemia

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Disease progression of chronic myelogenous leukemia

Cancer cells can spread from where they start to other parts of the body. Unlike other types of cancer, leukemia does not usually form solid tumours in other organs in the body. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming tissue in the bone marrow, and it can spread wherever the blood travels. As a result, chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is often widespread when it is found.

CML usually progresses slowly. It starts with too many granulocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the bone marrow. The abnormal granulocytes are called leukemia cells. The red blood cells and platelets cannot work properly because they are crowded out by too many leukemia cells.

Where CML spreads

Understanding how a type of cancer usually progresses helps your healthcare team plan your treatment and future care. CML cells usually collect in the:

  • spleen
  • liver
  • bone marrow
  • skin (in rare cases)

Leukemia does not usually form solid tumours in these organs. The build-up of abnormal cells in the organs affects them so they don’t work normally.

Symptoms of CML disease progression

The following are signs that CML is progressing from one phase to another:

  • the number of leukemia cells increases
  • the spleen or liver become larger than normal and causes abdominal discomfort and a feeling of fullness
  • anemia gets worse
  • the platelet count changes (this usually shows as clotting or bleeding complications)
  • fever
  • bone pain
  • recurring infections


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