AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Many patients, given little hope of surviving an aggressive form of leukemia, are now living years after diagnosis. Doctors believe a new treatment, studied at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, may even be a cure.

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Doctors call it groundbreaking and say it has revolutionized what they can do with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a highly aggressive, difficult-to-treat cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

AML usually affects older people who can’t tolerate intensive chemotherapy. This new therapy has given patients, like Karl Leason of Canon City, a second chance at life.

Karl Leason (credit: Karl Leason)

“I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t even know it was there,” Leason told CBS 4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

In March of 2017, Leason was 69 and felt fine. He was active and enjoying retirement when he was shocked to learn he had AML.

“And my doctor said you’ve got six months to a year,” said Leason. “You don’t want to die and you would do anything not to die.”

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What Leason did was put his trust in Dr. Daniel Pollyea, an associate professor in the CU School of Medicine and Director of Leukemia Services. Leason joined Pollyea’s clinical trial at CU Cancer Center using a combination of two cancer drugs, azacitidine and venetoclax, to disable the AML stem cells.

“This treatment is getting down to the roots. It’s going down and eradicating the root cause of the disease,” explained Pollyea.

Dr. Daniel Pollyea, University of Colorado Cancer Center (credit: CBS)

The clinical trial had a 91 percent remission rate in older adults who were newly diagnosed. Leason has been in complete remission for two years.

“We do have some cases in which we believe it’s possible these patients have been cured,” said Pollyea.

Leason expects to stay on the therapy indefinitely. He calls it his lifeline. He’s got a new bucket list that includes a trip to Europe with his wife, Marie, and maybe a new motorcycle.

He’s had no side effects from the treatment, but Leason has noticed a change in himself.

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“You cry a lot, you’re so grateful that you’re alive,” he said.

Pollyea calls CU Cancer Center ground zero for this research. He says work continues on improving the drug regimen. He believes it could be a hopeful strategy for fighting other types of cancer.

For more information on the clinical trial call 720-848-6400.

Kathy Walsh

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