After consulting a doctor about hot flashes and night sweats, NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was diagnosed with leukemia. He considered the diagnosis a death sentence, but today his health is fine. Abdul-Jabbar gets his blood checked regularly, takes his meds, and consults with his doctor to maintain good health and a minimum of disruptions to his lifestyle.
Once a fatal disease, chronic myelogenous leukemia or CML, can now be kept under control for 80% – 90% of patients with oral medications. However, not all African Americans facing this cancer prognosis are as lucky.
What is leukemia?
Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow is where blood cells are made.
When you are healthy, your bone marrow makes:
- White blood cells, which help your body fight infection.
- Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
- Platelets, which help your blood clot.
When you have leukemia, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. They don’t do the work of normal white blood cells, they grow faster than normal cells, and they don’t stop growing when they should.
Over time, leukemia cells can crowd out the normal blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infections. Leukemia cells can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and cause swelling or pain.
Blacks, Leukemia & Transplants
For many of them, bone marrow transplants are the only thing that can save their lives. However, a new study suggests not everyone has the same access to marrow transplants. Because blacks are underrepresented in the national donor registry, nearly 85% don’t find matches after six months of searching. Every year, more than 10,000 Americans are found to have cancers of the blood, such as leukemia or lymphoma.
Our community especially suffers the most because many times we don’t come forward and donate blood or marrow.