What Is Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, the Cancer That Struck Nora Ephron?

Posted: June 29, 2012 at 7:12 am

Ask the Experts | Health

The When Harry Met Sally screenwriter recently succumbed to this enigmatic form of cancer, but there are new treatments in the pipeline

By Larry Greenemeier | June 28, 2012

BRAVE FACE: Nora Ephron at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. She was first diagnosed in 2006 with a type of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a category of blood diseases also referred to as "preleukemia." This later progressed to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Image: Courtesy of David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

Nora Ephron's final act played out in Manhattan on June 26 where the 71-year-old writer and movie director died from pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia (AML), one of the most common types of leukemia among adults. AML is a cancer caused when abnormal cells grow inside bone marrow and interfere with the production of healthy blood cells. The marrow eventually stops working correctly, leaving a person with an increased risk of bleeding and infections.

Ephronbest known for writing When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattlewas first diagnosed in 2006 with one of the myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a category of blood diseases also referred to as "preleukemia" that can progress into AML if the bone marrow continually fails to produce enough healthy platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells over time. MDS made headlines recently when ABC's Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts announced she has been diagnosed with the disease.

Some types of leukemia, including AML, develop as a result of exposure to certain chemicals (including herbicides and pesticides), chemotherapy drugs (such as etoposide and a class of drugs known as alkylating agents) and radiation. Typically, however, a doctor is unable to pinpoint the exact cause in individual cases.

Although estimates vary, there are between 10,000 and 12,000 new cases of MDS in the U.S. annually. More than 80 percent of all MDS patients are older than 60. The National Cancer Institute projects that 13,780 men and women7,350 men and 6,430 womenwill be diagnosed with AML and that 10,200 men and women will die of the malady this year.

Scientific American spoke with Bart Scott, a medical oncologist specializing in the treatment of patients with MDS, about syndrome's progression to AML, who is most at risk for this cancer and whether there are any promising treatments on the horizon. Scott is also director of hematology and hematologic malignancies at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and an assistant member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's clinical research division.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Originally posted here:
What Is Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, the Cancer That Struck Nora Ephron?

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