Advocating for Your Health
- A 65-year-old man came to a dermatology clinic with a painful rash on his hands and elbows only to find out that his rash was the manifestation of a much larger issue: leukemia.
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but general symptoms for the disease include: Fever or chills, persistent fatigue, weakness, frequent or severe infections, losing weight without trying, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged liver or spleen, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), excessive sweating as well as bone pain or tenderness.
- Advocating for your health is extremely important. You never know when speaking up about issues with your body can make a world of difference for health outcomes. One of our experts says that there should be a plan for what the doctor is going to do for you after your leave every appointment.
After suffering for five days from the painful rash, the man went to a dermatology clinic in Mannheim, Germany. There he was diagnosed with leukemia cutis.Read More
In this case, doctors found chronic myelomonocytic leukemia to be the underlying cause.
“The patient received a diagnosis of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia and underwent stem-cell transplantation,” wrote experts from The New England Journal of Medicine. “Two weeks after the transplantation, the patient’s skin changes had resolved, and the cancer has been in remission since.”
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including red blood cells and platelets.
“One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” she said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
So, What Is Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia?
Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia, or CMML, is an uncommon type of blood cancer that develops when a stem cell in the bone marrow mutates causing abnormal blood cell production and an overproduction of certain types of white blood cells that crowd out other blood cells.
CMML is very rare and generally affects older adults. According to the American Cancer Society, only four of every million people in the United States each year have it which works out to about 1,100 cases each year.
According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, CMML can lead to the following if not treated:
- Low numbers of red blood cells that can no longer supply an adequate amount of oxygen, resulting in anemia.
- The immune system’s inability to guard against infection effectively because of a lack of neutrophils (a type of white cell), a condition called leukopenia.
- Low numbers of platelets, which can cause bleeding and easy bruising with no apparent cause, a condition called thrombocytopenia.
Advocating for Your Health
Whether you are currently battling cancer or worried that you might have it, it’s always important to advocate for your health. Cancer is an incredibly serious disease, and you have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer. Or, like in the above case, if you simply have no idea what’s causing issues with your body, you should still seek professional help. You never know when speaking up about a seemingly unimportant issue can lead to a very important diagnosis – cancer or otherwise.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
One thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.