According to a story from curetoday.com, Betty Strommer had been a breast cancer survivor for years when, in 2013, she was suddenly diagnosed with cancer again. This time, it was acute myeloid leukemia, a rare blood cancer. She was diagnosed after experiencing a unexpected bout of unusual symptoms, such as acid reflux and poor tolerance for exercise. As it turns out, many people who survive their first encounter with cancer are at a greater risk of developing a different type of cancer later on; Betty is not alone.
About Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
Acute myeloid leukemia, also known as acute myelogenous leukemia, is a type of blood cancer which affects myeloblasts, stem cells that would normally develop into myeloid white blood cells. There are a number of risk factors for acute myeloid leukemia, including other blood disorders such as myelodysplastic syndrome, family history, certain genetic variants, chemical exposure (including chemotherapy agents), and radiation. Symptoms include an increased risk of infection, easy bruising and bleeding, fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, weight and appetite loss, anemia, and bone/joint pain. Treatment for this cancer is most often chemotherapy or stem cell transplant; there are very limited options for patients with relapsed disease. The five year survival rate for acute myeloid leukemia is only 27 percent in the US. There is a clear need for more effective treatments for this cancer. To learn more about acute myeloid leukemia, click here.
Survivors Are At Risk
As more people are able to survive cancer, this population is also experiencing an increase in the number of secondary cancers that appear later. To be clear, this is a distinct phenomena from disease relapse, spread, or recurrence; this is not the same cancer reappearing. In some cases, they may be somewhat related (sharing similar risk factors for example), but in other situations, they can be partially the result of prior treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy are both potential risk factors for blood cancers like acute myeloid leukemia and others. For Betty, previous treatment likely contributed to the appearance of a second cancer.
Living a healthy, active lifestyle can help reduce a cancer survivor’s risk of getting a second cancer, but it is not altogether preventable. While the benefits for chemo or radiation for cancer treatment still far outweigh the risks of getting a secondary cancer, research has found that from 2009-2013, 18.4 percent of new cancer cases were secondary cancers.
Survivors need to make continued check-ups and monitoring a priority and should visit a doctor immediately if any suspicious symptoms appear. Betty was thankfully able to induce remission for her leukemia after treatment and is currently taking sorafenib as a maintenance therapy, but not all patients are so fortunate.