Living with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and a PICC Line

Recently, one of our customers shared his personal story of living with a PICC line and a Care+Wear PICC line cover while receiving treatment for AML. With his permission we wanted to share it with the rest of our community and share some more information on AML for anyone who is not familiar with it. Please see below for his story and some more information on AML. Thanks for sharing!

His story:  

I’ve had a highly positive experience with Care+Wear for my PICC line.  I was diagnosed with AML in 2013 and have had three different PICC sites as well as some triple lumen catheters needed during transplantation for additional number of access lumens.  I’m proud to say none of the PICC lines were removed due to infections.  Before Care+Wear I used a cutoff sock which would bunch up or the catheter would slip out.  Care+Wear kept the catheter tail in place and was more comfortable. 

Having the PICC line placed was not very painful and it kept me from needing IVs inserted and also made blood draws easy.  PICC lines are great so taking care of them and keeping them sterile is a priority.  When I had ordered a Care+Wear sleeve that was too big, Chat was kind enough to give personal service and had an exchange quickly.  He’s even followed up with me later to make sure things worked out well.

With all the adversity of this illness, Care+Wear at least took care of one small aspect which is very important—keeping the PICC line clean and out of the way.  It looked better than the cutoff sock, too!

What is Acute Myeloid Leukemia? 

Acute myeloid leukemia (or AML) is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. It is characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. White blood cells are responsible for fighting infections and red blood cells and they help with the flow of oxygen throughout the body. Abnormalities in red and white blood cells or even the lack of production of said cells can cause tremendous damage to the body and is extremely dangerous. AML starts in the bone marrow, which is the soft inner part of the bone. Without treatment, it can quickly spread to the blood and to other parts of the body such as the liver, spleen, brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes and the testicles. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, easy bruising and bleeding and increased risk of infection caused by the replacement of normal blood cells with leukemic cells. Leukemic cells may cause a drop in red blood cells, platelets and normal white blood cells. A drop of platelets can lead to easy bruising or bleeding with minor trauma. The early signs of AML tend to be vague and nonspecific and may resemble that of other common illnesses. There have been instances where a person may show no symptoms and the leukemia gets discovered during a routine blood test. 

What are the risk factors for AML?

The only proven lifestyle-related risk factor for AML is smoking. Many people know that smoking is linked to a number of cancers including cancer of the lungs, mouth and throat, but few realize that it can also affect cells that do not come into direct contact with smoke. The tobacco smoke is absorbed by the lungs and spread through the bloodstream easily to many parts of the body. Exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of AML. For example, long-term exposure to high levels of benzene, a solvent used in many industries and factories as well as cigarette smoke, gasoline and even glues and detergents, is a risk factor for AML. Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause AML as well a few years after treatment as well as radiation.  

How to check for AML?

There are several ways to check for AML, including:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Complete blood count: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
  • Peripheral blood smear: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked for blast cells, the number and kinds of white blood cells, the number of platelets, and changes in the shape of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood and bone under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
  • Cytogenetic analysis: A laboratory test in which the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.
  • Immunophenotyping: A process used to identify cells, based on the types of antigens or markers on the surface of the cell. This process is used to diagnose the subtype of AML by comparing the cancer cells to normal cells of the immune system. For example, a cytochemistry study may test the cells in a sample of tissue using chemicals to look for certain changes in the sample. A chemical may cause a color change in one type of leukemia cell but not in another type of leukemia cell.
  • Reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction test: A laboratory test in which cells in a sample of tissue are studied using chemicals to look for certain changes in the structure or function of genes. This test is used to diagnose certain types of AML including acute promyelocytic leukemia.

The chances of recovery and treatment options depend on:

  • The age of the patient
  • The subtype of AML
  • Whether the patient received chemotherapy in the past to treat a different cancer
  • Whether there is a history of a blood disorder such as myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Whether the cancer has spread to the central nervous system
  • Whether the cancer has been treated before or recurred

The extent or spread of cancer is usually described in stages. In adult AML, the subtype of AML and whether the leukemia has spread outside the blood and bone marrow are used instead of the stage to plan treatment. After AML has been diagnosed, the following tests must be done to see if it has spread:

  • Lumbar puncture: A procedure used to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the spine. This is done by placing a needle between two bones in the spine and removing a sample of the fluid. The sample is checked under a microscope for signs to see if the leukemia cells have spread to the brain and spinal cord.
  • CT scan: A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of the abdomen, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the orangs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography.

What is treatment for AML like?

There are traditionally 2 treatment phases for AML:

  • Remission induction therapy: This is the first phase of treatment. The goal is to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow. This puts the leukemia into remission (when it is no longer life threatening).
  • Post-remission therapy: This is the second phase of treatment. It begins after the leukemia is in remission. The goal of post-remission therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may not be active but could begin to regrow and cause a relapse. This phase is also called remission continuation therapy.

There are a couple of different treatment methods:

  • Chemotherapy: This is the most common method. It is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. The drugs enter the bloodstream and reach cancer cells throughout the body. Check with your doctor to see what type of chemotherapy is right for you.
  • Radiation Therapy: This is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.
  • Stem Cell Transplant (or a bone marrow transplant): This is a method of giving chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells that are abnormal or destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These re-infused stem cells grow into the body’s blood cells.
  • Alternative Drug Therapies: There are anticancer drugs that attack leukemia such as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) that help stop the abnormalities of white blood cells. 

At Care+Wear we understand that going through chemotherapy is difficult , visit our posts on Cancer Support Groups and Chemo Care Packages to learn more on how to deal with your diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one. We hope this post on AML was informative and let us know if there are any other topics you would like to learn about!



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