“Man from Uncle”, Robert Vaughn Dies of Leukemia

Actor Robert Vaughn, best known from his role as secret agent Napoleon Solo on The Man from Uncle, has died at the age of 83 from acute leukemia. His death was announced by his manager Matthew Sullivan, who said that “Mr. Vaughn passed away with his family around him.”

Actor David McCallum, who played opposite Vaughn in The Man from Uncle as Illya Kuryakin (now known from the hit show NCIS), said he was “utterly devastated by the news:”

“Robert and I worked together for many years and losing him is like losing a part of me. My deepest sympathies go out to Linda and the Vaughn family.”

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. Most blood cells form in the bone marrow. In leukemia, immature blood cells become cancer. These cells do not work the way they should and they crowd out the healthy blood cells in the bone marrow.

Different types of leukemia depend on the type of blood cell that becomes cancer. For example, lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of the lymphoblasts (white blood cells, which fight infection). White blood cells are the most common type of blood cell to become cancer. But red blood cells (cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body) and platelets (cells that clot the blood) may also become cancer.

Leukemia occurs most often in adults older than 55 years, but it is also the most common cancer in children younger than 15 years.

Leukemia can be either acute or chronic. Acute leukemia is a fast-growing cancer that usually gets worse quickly. Chronic leukemia is a slower-growing cancer that gets worse slowly over time.

A few statistics

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with leukemia at some point during their lifetime.

leukemia-statistics

There are two main kinds of acute adult leukemia

There are two types of acute leukemia,  acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

AML is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell), red blood cells, or platelets. This type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if it is not treated. It is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults. AML is also called acute myelogenous leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

ALL is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). This type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if it is not treated.

Blood cells are made in the bone marrow

Normally, the bone marrow makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood cells over time. A blood stem cell may become a myeloid stem cell or a lymphoid stem cell. A lymphoid stem cell becomes a white blood cell.

Основные RGBA myeloid stem cell becomes one of three types of mature blood cells:

  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other substances to all tissues of the body
  • White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
  • Platelets that form blood clots to stop bleeding.

More about AML

In AML, the myeloid stem cells usually become a type of immature white blood cell called myeloblasts (or myeloid blasts). The myeloblasts in AML are abnormal and do not become healthy white blood cells. Sometimes in AML, too many stem cells become abnormal red blood cells or platelets. These abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets are also called leukemia cells or blasts. Leukemia cells can build up in the bone marrow and blood so there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. When this happens, infection, anemia, or easy bleeding may occur. The leukemia cells can spread outside the blood to other parts of the body, including the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), skin, and gums.

blast cells

Blast cells

What are the symptoms of leukemia?

The early signs and symptoms of AML may be like those caused by the flu or other common diseases. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  •  Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
  • Weakness or feeling tired.
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite.

How is leukemia treated?

The treatment of adult leukemia usually has 2 phases.

The 2 treatment phases are:

  • Remission induction therapy: This is the first phase of treatment. The goal is to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow. This puts the leukemia into remission.
  • Post-remission therapy: This is the second phase of treatment. It begins after the leukemia is in remission. The goal of post-remission therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may not be active but could begin to regrow and cause a relapse. This phase is also called remission continuation therapy.

Treatment options include chemotherapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow (or stem cell) transplant, as well as new and innovative treatments that are beginning to be used.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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