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Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/13/2010

Are you looking for detailed information on chronic myeloid leukemia symptoms? If so, read on to get the details by phase.

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    Chronic myeloid leukemia symptoms can range from mild to severe and in most cases, the symptoms come on suddenly over a few days or weeks. The interference with the patient's bone marrow function is the primary reason patients get sick and experience symptoms. This leukemia is a type of cancer that originates in the bone marrow. This cancer stems from the cells that would typically become white blood cells. It most commonly affects patients over 65 years of age, but in rare cases, it can affect those younger than 40. The signs and symptoms that occur depend on the stage in most cases.

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    Initial Chronic Phase

    This phase often lasts five years or more. The disease will progress very slowly and patients may remain stable with few to no change in their symptom's severity for prolonged periods of time. Many patients will not experience any symptoms, or will just experience minor symptoms. This may be diagnosed by “accident” when the patient is having blood testing done for another reason. This phase lasts for an average of four or five years. However, some patients will experience this phase for twenty years or more. During this phase there will be five percent or less blast cells present in the bone marrow and blood.

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    Transformation Phase

    Also sometimes referred to as the accelerated phase, the disease tends to change and speed up during this phase. The amount of abnormal cells in the blood stream and bone marrow build up, with many of the abnormal cells being immature, or blast, white blood cells. During this phase, about six percent to thirty percent of blast cells will be present in the bone marrow and blood. As these abnormal cells accumulate within the bone marrow it will be hard for normal cells within the bone marrow to produce enough normal blood cells and survive, which may cause a variety of chronic myeloid leukemia symptoms to develop. Such signs and symptoms may include:

    Anemia: This may occur if the amount of red blood cells in the patient's blood stream decreases. This may cause the patient to experience paleness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and other symptoms.

    Blood clotting issues: This may occur if the amount of platelets in the patient's blood stream decreases. This may cause patients to experience easy bleeding, bleeding from the gums, easy bruising, and other problems associated with bleeding.

    Serious infections: This may occur is blast cells and abnormal white blood cells do not protect the patient's body from infection. If the amount of normal white blood cells is decreased, the body is more vulnerable to infections, and there is an increased risk of the patient developing serious infections.

    Other symptoms that patients may experience in this phase include weight loss, sweats, and mild left side abdominal pain related to an enlarged or swollen spleen.

    This phase usually lasts about six to twenty-four months. In some cases, this phase does not occur and the patient goes directly from the chronic phase to the blast phase.

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    Blast Phase

    During this phase, the patient's condition quickly becomes worse and acts like an acute leukemia. Several blast cells develop resulting in a worsening of symptoms due to them crowding most of the bone marrow. The symptoms in the transformation phase are the same as the symptoms here, but much worse for many patients. During this phase the bone marrow and blood will often contain over thirty percent blast cells. In rare cases, patients may develop myelofibrosis during this phase. This condition is characterized by the bone marrow not being able to produce white cells, red cells, or platelets any longer due to being replaced by scar tissue.

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    Resources

    National Institutes of Health. (1998). Leukemia, Chronic Myeloid. Retrieved on October 8, 2010 from the National Institutes of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=gnd&part=leukemiachronicmyeloid

    Egton Medical Information Systems. (2009). Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Retrieved on October 8, 2010 from Egton Medical Information Systems: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Leukaemia-Chronic-Myeloid.htm