Leukemia, Nora Ephron’s Illness, Explained

Academy Award-winning writer and director Nora Ephron has passed away after battling an aggressive form of leukemia, according to news reports. She was 71.

Ephron was behind iconic films such as “You’ve Got Mail,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Julie & Julia.”

CBS News reported that Dr. Gail Roboz, who is Ephron’s oncologist, said she died from acute myeloid leukemia. She passed away at Weill-Cornell/New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

However, the International Business Times reported that a Washington Post columnist was told that she actually died from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, which she had been diagnosed with earlier.

Leukemia is cancer that occurs in the blood-forming tissues, such as the bone marrow, according to the Mayo Clinic. In people with leukemia, blood cells aren’t produced properly by the bone marrow; over time, these abnormal cells grow and overcome the healthy cells.

There are expected to be 47,150 new cases of the disease this year, and 23,540 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The main types of leukemia are grouped into four kinds: two chronic, and two acute, each depending on what kind of cell is affected — either the lymphoid cells, or the myeloid cells. Acute leukemia is aggressive and requires quick treatment, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, while chronic leukemia occurs more slowly and can go undiagnosed for some time.

Ephron was reported to have acute myeloid leukemia. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society said that treatment is imperative immediately after diagnosis with this kind of leukemia.

Risk factors for leukemia include genetic diseases, blood disorders, having been exposed to radiation or certain chemicals, having gone through cancer treatment previously, smoking, and having a family history of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The disease is especially deadly among young people — it is the most common cancer and cause of death from cancer in people younger than age 20, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease is treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants to replace disease bone marrow with healthy bone marrow, biological therapy to boost the immune system and targeted therapy to attack the cancer cells, the Mayo Clinic reported.

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