A Houston hematologist said that decades ago, before a reliable treatment was discovered, a diagnosis of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL) often was akin to a death sentence.
Patients nowadays can be cancer-free within weeks and done with treatment in a matter of months, according to Dr. Siddartha Ganguly, the section chief of the Division of Hematology for Houston Methodist Hospital and the Neal Cancer Center.
That is a welcome sign for the Houston Texans and their newest offensive weapon, rookie wide receiver John Metchie III, who announced Sunday he likely will miss the entire 2022 season after being diagnosed with the rare-but-curable form of leukemia.
Ganguly, who is familiar with the condition but is not treating the 22-year-old Metchie, said the prognosis for APL patients is generally good as long as the blood cancer is detected early and patients do not have other health risks.
“In 2022, with modern advances in technology, the cure rate is now well above 95 percent, even up to 97 percent,” Ganguly said. “It’s a cancer we know very well how to treat.
“Next season,” he added, “(Metchie) might be able to come back to work.”
The Texans selected the 5-foot-11, 187-pound Metchie in the second round of this year’s NFL draft, with the 44nd overall pick. He caught 96 passes for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the University of Alabama.
Alabama coach Nick Saban expressed support for Metchie in a statement released Sunday, saying he’s glad his former player is in a city known for having exceptional, cutting-edge doctors and medical facilities.
Dr. Adan Rios, an oncologist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and a professor of oncology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, said the Texas Medical Center has played a significant role in advancing treatments for APL over the years. He also said well-known athletes historically play a big part in educating the public about diseases and other medical conditions they may be experiencing.
“I am currently receiving great medical care, am in good spirits and I expect to make a recovery at a later point in time,” Metchie said in a Sunday statement released through the Texans. “… My main focus will be on my health and recovery.”
APL is a form of acute myeloid leukemia that is especially prevalent among the Hispanic population as well as those who are obese, according to Ganguly and Rios, with Rios adding that is also is most common in young adults. The doctors said there are roughly 800 cases annually in the United States.
Patients with APL typically present by bleeding more than they normally would, according to Rios. Other symptoms include increased bruising, feelings of fatigue and in some cases fever.
Rios said environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins, are believed to be an underlying cause of APL.
While Metchie’s form of leukemia is curable in most cases, Ganguly said early detection and diagnosis is critical.
“This particular type of leukemia can turn very serious in a matter of days. We’re not talking about weeks here,” Ganguly said. “This type of leukemia should get attention. … It could be fatal.”
The typical treatment for APL, according to Rios, involves an initial hospital stay of four to six weeks, during which point patients receive a high dose of a Vitamin A derivative. Patients often enter remission at that point, according to Ganguly, who said they then receive rounds of the same treatments on an outpatient basis over the span of a few months.
“Most patients do incorporate after two to three months of treatment to their regular, normal life without any significant difficulty,” Rios said.
Ganguly said he usually recommends against strenuous physical activity during the first six to eight months after treatment begins. He added that some patients could recover more quickly.
After the completion of treatment, Rios said APL patients generally have checkups every few months and are considered cured if the cancer remains in remission for a period of five years.