Health Report: Fairbanks physician discusses Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 4:13 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, and in the last ten years there have been amazing strides in treatment expansion.

According to Dr. Andrew Cox, a Medical Oncologist with the Fairbanks Cancer Care Physicians, blood cancer covers a wide range of different diseases.

“I think the first thing to think about when we look at these diseases is how different they can be,” Dr. Cox explained. “For example, you know leukemia is one word, but that could mean a whole range of things. Most basically, leukemia breaks up into four different types. [For] some of those, someone will show up in an emergency room and we’re transferring them down to Seattle to start urgent care; whereas others for example, CLL or chronic lymphocytic leukemia, that may be a disease that requires no treatment for over ten years, and then we can treat it relatively easily for another 15 years.”

Along with the variety of leukemias, there are also a variety of lymphomas and methods to treat them. Dr. Cox continued, “Someone may get diagnosed with a lymphoma but may not require treatment. We may just monitor the lymphoma if it’s not causing a person any symptoms. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have somebody who shows up acutely ill and needs to be treated very aggressively.”

There are also a few signs of leukemia and lymphomas to be aware of.

“The presentation of either leukemias or lymphomas can be... it’s just all over the board,” Dr. Cox said. “They might be fine one week, and then a few weeks later just getting sick and then things are really changing. Alternatively, and this would be more of something with the more indolent diseases, somebody might just notice a lump but otherwise feel fine, and then after a few months just notices it’s a little bigger, [and] decides to get it checked out.”

In the last decade, research into possible treatment for various blood cancers has yielded exciting results.

“I think one interesting thing about both the leukemias and lymphomas to mention is the development of something called Car T-cell immunotherapy,” Dr. Cox continued. “We’ve seen some amazing stories in five, ten years where a person’s T-cells can actually be taken out of them, engineered to attack the tumor, and then put back in. Then sometimes the tumors just completely disappear. So again, you’re taking a person’s immune system, you’re taking part of those cells out of the person, it’s getting modified in a laboratory, put back in because it’s been programmed to attack a specific target on the cancer cells. The range of therapies that are available for both leukemias and lymphomas has just exploded over the last ten years.”

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