My Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL): More Good News
It's in remission and it's actively retreating, but I still have residual disease.
Today I learned that my flow cytometry showed that I have a few cancer cells floating in my blood stream.
Here's how I know.
Essentially all B cells, good or bad, cancerous or benign, have a CD20 marker but are not supposed to have the CD19 marker on their surface. Those that have both are my abnormal CLL cancer cells.
Flow cytometry which looks very deeply at thousands of cells was able to find only 28 of such cells per microliter of my blood. Because my total ALC is 1400, that means only 2% of my lymphocytes are clonal.
Let's do the math. There are a million microliters in every liter and we all have about 5.6 liters of blood, so 28,000,000 x 5.6 or 156,000,000 cancer cells lolling around in my blood stream. Sounds like a lot, but it's nothing.
Those millions and millions of peripheral white blood cells are not the one that are proliferating. That's done mostly in the nodes, so my nodes are pumping out less cancer now. I know that because in October, the same count was 47. That's a 43% drop in the last 6 months, suggesting my CLL is still responding nicely to the ibrutinib.
After nearly two years, it is still working its magic inhibiting the B cell communication pathways needed to survive and reproduce.
That's truly great news.
Quite remarkable if we stop and think about it. Almost two years out and this gentle giant of a therapy is still dropping my leukemic cell count.
To get some perspective on my results, compared to my measly 28 CLL cells, I have a total of 1,400 lymphocytes in that same tiny spec of blood. Some of my friends with active disease can have half a million lymphocytes or more in each and every same millionth of a liter of blood and nearly everyone is a part of the evil clone's posse. My count of CD19/CD20 + cells is trivial in comparison.
The other good news is that my overall T cell count is climbing with appropriate CD4/CD8 ratios. This could mean my ability to fight off infections is improving and more importantly my bone marrow and the rest of my immune system is healing.
My CLL has always been more nodal, hidden in my belly, so the CT scan at the end of June will be critical, but this is a positive harbinger. Makes sense that if I harbored any significantly growing nodes that were resisting the ibrutinib, they would be pumping more cancer out into the blood and the exact opposite is happening. But the relationship between the size of the nodes and the CLL count in the blood is not always so tight. Still it is good news.
I will be posting more videos from ASH soon and am preparing to attend ASCO in Chicago at the end of May.