While admitting he was fearful when he received the diagnosis last December, the basketball great said his prognosis is encouraging.
The 62-year-old Abdul-Jabbar said his doctor didn't give any guarantees, but informed him: "You have a very good chance to live your life out and not have to make any drastic changes to your lifestyle."
Abdul-Jabbar is taking an oral medication for the disease.
Citing the way Los Angeles Lakers teammate Magic Johnson brought awareness to HIV, Abdul-Jabbar said he wants to do the same for his form of blood cancer, which can be fatal if left untreated.
"I've never been a person to share my private life. But I can help save lives," he said at a midtown Manhattan conference room. "It's incumbent on someone like me to talk about this."
Abdul-Jabbar's form of the illness, CML, accounts for about 15 percent of all cases. CML used to be treated aggressively with radiation and bone marrow transplants, but the condition is now more manageable thanks to some newer medications
Gleevec and two other drugs, Sprycel and Tesigna, are all designed to shutdown the chromosomal defect causing CML. The drug manages the condition much like medications manage other chronic diseases.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells that starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones where blood cells are made.
Like other forms of leukemia, CML affects the body's white blood cells, causing the leukemia cells to grow out of control, impacting the function of healthy blood cells. 'Chronic' forms of leukemia are managed differently from 'acute' forms of the disease. Acute leukemia progresses faster than chronic leukemia, and acute leukemia attacks immature blood cells instead of only mature cells. For these reasons chronic forms of leukemia has a better prognosis for recovery than acute leukemia.
Leukemia cells 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.
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.
Healthy bone marrow typically 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.
- Being male.
- Smoking, especially after age 60.
- Having had treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy in the past.
- Having had treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in the past.
- Being exposed to atomic bomb radiation or the chemical benzene.
- Having a history of a blood disorder such as myelodysplastic syndrome.
- Shortness of breath.
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
- Weakness or feeling tired.
- Weight loss or loss of appetite.