Looking At Leukemia

Ed Bradley didn't seem like someone with leukemia. His last report aired less than two weeks before his death on Thursday. But that can be typical, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports.

There are several kinds of leukemia. Edward Pappalardo has the same type Bradley had — chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He's had it for 18 years.

Leukemia is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow, where blood cells are created. The cancer can disrupt the three main components of blood: red cells, white cells and platelets. Too few red cells causes anemia, defective white cells lead to infection and low platelets increase bruising and bleeding.

The illness is often hidden — and detected only through a blood test during a routine check-up.

But during the last few years, there have been impressive advances in leukemia treatment.

"I would say all kinds are treatable and some are potentially curable. The mild forms of the disease may require no form of treatment," says Dr. J. Gregory Mears of New York Presbyterian Medical Center.

For some patients, a new drug called Gleevec has been a breakthrough.

"A majority of the people with that condition can look forward to a healthy life by taking one pill a day," Mears says.

It's also easier to find a bone marrow donor to provide the adult stem cells that may cure the disease, but some patients have a hard time finding a match.

"There's still an under-representation of minorities. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians — are all under-represented," says Dr. Steve Nimer of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

There is a push to find more donors, especially now that the process of donating is no longer painful.

"It's almost like giving blood if you go to the local blood bank at the Red Cross," says Nimer.

And the rewards?

"You can save a life," he says.