NBA Great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Diagnosed With Leukemia

Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar has been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.

ByABC News via GMA logo
November 10, 2009, 7:32 AM

Nov. 10, 2009— -- Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said today he had been living with leukemia for nearly a year but no longer considered the disease a death sentence.

Abdul-Jabbar, 62, told "Good Morning America" that he'd been diagnosed in December with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, or PH+CML, a rare cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

"I heard the world 'leukemia,' and I thought this was definitely a death sentence," Abdul-Jabbar said.

But, now, his prognosis is good, he said.

"If I can do this as I'm told to do it, I can manage this," he said.

Chronic myeloid leukemia affects about 4,500 adults in the United States, with a median age of 67 at diagnosis, according to the CML Alliance.

Symptoms can include fatigue, night sweats, weight loss and pain or discomfort on the left side of the abdomen caused by an enlarged spleen.

Abdul-Jabbar, now a spokesman for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., which partners with the CML Alliance, said he started to notice symptoms shortly before his diagnosis.

"I had noticed I was having hot flashes and sweats," he said. "I'm not going through menopause. So I really needed to know what that's about. The next day they called and said, 'You need to go see a specialist. Your white blood cell count is sky high."

Abdul-Jabbar said his first thought was of his good friend, actor Bruno Kirby, who died in 2006 at age 57 from a different form of leukemia.