Many patients diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia show signs of remission within a few of months of treatment, according to Dr. Anita Conte. She’s a local hematologist and oncologist affiliated with several hospitals, including Columbus Regional.
The illness quickly moved into the spotlight Monday after the Indianapolis Colts announced that head coach Chuck Pagano is undergoing treatment for the disease.
Conte said she is treating only one Columbus patient — a woman who is at least 60 — with the illness known simply by the acronym APL. She diagnosed another case earlier this year in Indianapolis when a patient exhibited easy bruising and heavy bleeding.
APL is a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia, representing only 7 percent to 10 percent of cases of this form of cancer, according to Conte.
A drug in pill form called all-trans retinoic acid, or ATRA, a derivative of vitamin A, “has revolutionized the treatment,” Conte said. The medicine allows immature cells to mature and become healthy.
Patients often take that for one to two years, Conte said.
Normally, that medicine or arsenic trioxide is used in conjunction with several weeks of chemotherapy to fight APL. Conte said the illness surfaces with symptoms such as fatigue, fever, bleeding or even bone pain.
“It’s the only leukemia in which we see a high success rate without resorting to a bone marrow transplant,” Conte said.
She added that nearly 90 percent of cases of treated APL go into remission. Without medical treatment, the illness is fatal.
Conte diagnoses it with a combination of a bone marrow biopsy and a blood test.