We've been learning a lot about Luca's disease in the last few days, and we thought we'd share what we've learned for anyone who's interested. We can't vouch for the accuracy or completeness of any this information, but here's a small summary of what we understand so far.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. For some unknown reason, a gene called MLL attached itself to the 11th chromosome in one or a small number of Luca's white blood cells. At some point (and again for unknown reasons), this mutation prevented that cell or cells from receiving the instruction to stop dividing after a few days, like normal cells do. The affected cell began replicating itself uncontrollably.
Eventually, these problematic cells, called blast cells, became so numerous that they wouldn't allow normal blood cells - such as infection-fighting white blood cells, or clot-inducing platelets - room to grow inside the bone marrow. And of course, you really need those other cells. The immature blast cells reproduce very rapidly, spread through the blood stream, and quickly manifest themselves as tumors and skin legions.
In Luca's case, the leukemia first presented itself in an unusual fashion: as a collection of blast cells in the skin of his nose. The cancer was essentially masquerading as a straight-forward nose infection, with some expected swelling in the lymph nodes below. After many weeks of unsuccessful treatment, and with Luca's condition rapidly deteriorating, we finally arrived at an accurate diagnoses. We rushed Luca to Sloan-Kettering for immediate chemotherapy treatment.
Leukemia is very curable. In another post we'll talk about the treatment plan. And as you can see, Luca doesn't seem too concerned about any of this.
Learn lots more about leukemia at The National Cancer Institute.