PML & Chemotherapy Patients

The case of a 76-year-old man who died of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) after receiving six cycles of carboplatin/gemcitabine therapy was described in an August 2011 issue of the journal Neurological Sciences. The man had received the chemotherapy to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer. He died a few months after his symptoms began. The abstract of the article concluded that "chemotherapy appears to be uncommon," but is a definite condition associated with PML.

Chemotherapy is one of the triggers that starts the downward spiral of PML. The disease is an opportunistic infection of the brain caused by the JC virus. The term chemotherapy is used to describe a group of drugs to treat cancer. These drugs, while killing cancer cells, often weaken the immune system, and it is a weakened immune system that makes patients vulnerable to the JC virus.

The virus lives a harmless existence in the bodies of 80 to 90 percent of adults. It is held in check by a healthy immune system. In a few people, however, this virus becomes activated when the immune system is compromised. The virus travels through the blood to the brain where it wreaks havoc.

The JC virus destroys the myelin, the protective sheath covering nerve cells. The myelin enhances the cells' ability to send their messages to the rest of the body. As the virus spreads through the brain, destroying cells here and there (therefore, PML is called "multifocal"), the body parts governed by the affected brain cells cease to function. Symptoms progress with the unceasing destruction of brain tissue.

Signs and Symptoms of PML

  • Symptoms often begin with the patient being clumsy
  • From there they progress as the disease progresses in the brain
  • Arms and legs become difficult to move, often on just one side of the body
  • The patient might suffer from headaches and weakness
  • Vision is often decreased in half of the visual field
  • Speech becomes slow and distorted
  • The patient might experience aphasia, a problem with language including speaking, listening, comprehending, reading and writing
  • The person might lose sensation in parts of the body
  • There can be personality changes and problems with cognition

To date, there is no cure for the illness. Treatment consists of palliative care. The patient may be helped by certain technology, such as computer-assisted speech or electronic wheelchairs. The average life expectancy in diagnosed patients is six months.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with PML, please contact us for legal help. Our PML attorneys have experience in this type of litigation and may be able to help you cover compensation for your suffering. Call or email us today to schedule a free review of your case.

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