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Madrid, June 21, 2021 - According to the latest data from the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), more than 6,000 cases of leukemia are diagnosed every year in Spain, this is a type of cancer that originates in the tissue in charge of producing blood cells, normally in the bone marrow. It represents less than 5% of all malignant tumors. The prognosis varies depending on the subtype of leukemia diagnosed.

On the occasion of European Leukemia Week, which is held this week, June 21 - 28, Dr. Adolfo de la Fuente, head of the Hematology Service at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, wanted to highlight that, "There are four subtypes of leukemia: acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, all with a very different clinical behavior and prognosis and which also require very different treatment strategies". Over the last 20 years there have been important advances in chronic myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia making it possible to significantly improve the prognosis for people with these diagnoses. Acute leukemia in adults continues to be a challenge, but we like to think that "we are at the beginning of a new era of hope for the treatment of acute leukemia in adults, with major clinical advances", he stresses.

Research plays a critical role in increasing life expectancy and disease development in patients with acute myeloid leukemia. The European Hematology Association (EHA) Congress was held recently, where hematologists from all around the world, from both the clinical and research fields, shared their knowledge and advances.

During the congress, Dr. de la Fuente had the opportunity to share a study on the incorporation into daily clinical practice of one of the new recently developed drugs that improve survival rates in people with acute myeloid leukemia - a FLT3 inhibitor.

In these patients, “the leukemia cells present a mutation in the FLT3 gene that results in greater proliferation of leukemia cells, with a higher risk of relapse. So, this type of inhibitor works by blocking the altered signaling pathway, increasing the response rate and improving survival rates”, explains Dr. de la Fuente.

As Dr. de la Fuente points out, after many years of work in basic research and many unsuccessful development attempts, they are beginning to see positive results and new strategies and therapeutic options can be transferred to daily clinical practice. These advances will have a positive impact on survival and cure rates, responding to the unmet needs of adult patients with acute leukemia.

On the other hand, the prognosis of chronic leukemia (chronic myeloid and chronic lymphocytic) has improved enormously in recent years, inhibitors of altered signaling pathways in leukemia cells and monoclonal antibodies have brought about a radical change, clearly increasing the life expectancy of people affected. "We are talking about diseases that are treated and controlled satisfactorily in a high percentage of patients", concludes Dr. de la Fuente.

Symptoms and patient profile

Each leukemia can present different symptoms. However, there are some common symptoms like fever, persistent fatigue, loss of appetite or weight, and shortness of breath. In addition, a more specific symptom of leukemia may be easy bruising or bleeding and the appearance of petechiae, tiny red spots that appear under the skin and are caused by these hemorrhages.

As for the profile of the patient, it depends a lot on the type of leukemia. Acute lymphocytic leukemia has two peaks: in childhood and early adulthood, and after age 60. In contrast, acute myeloid leukemia is rare in young people with an average age at diagnosis of more than 60.

The specific cause of leukemia is unknown, although viral, genetic, environmental, and immunological factors may be involved. On the one hand, it seems that there may be a certain genetic predisposition to leukemia, but, on the other hand, it has also been related to external factors like high exposure to certain chemical substances or the administration of high doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.