Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patient Story | News | Loyola Medicine
Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Patient with Acute Myeloid Leukemia Saved by Combination Treatment that Includes Arsenic

Sue Hornacek

MAYWOOD, IL – After seeking treatment for extreme fatigue and bruising, Sue Hornacek was diagnosed with one of the deadliest cancers – acute myeloid leukemia (M3).

Untreated, most patients with this uncommon form of leukemia live only about two months. Mrs. Hornacek was saved by a treatment at Loyola University Medical Center that combined arsenic with a form of vitamin A.

Watch Mrs. Hornacek's story.

In crime novels, arsenic is a favorite poison. But when arsenic is administered at a lower dose as a cancer treatment, it has few side effects. And in patients with Mrs. Hornacek’s subtype of leukemia, the arsenic-vitamin A combination treatment has a cure rate of between 80 and 85 percent.

“This is an example of what cancer treatment should be,” said Mrs. Hornacek’s physician, Sucha Nand, MD.

Dr. Nand is a professor in the division of hematology/oncology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. He was named to Chicago magazine’s 2016 Top Doctors list.

“Dr. Nand is a kind, understanding and very thorough doctor who explained every step of my journey to me,” Mrs. Hornacek said. “I truly believe that he and my nurses saved my life.”

Mrs. Hornacek is in complete remission, feels great and is returning to work full time as a real estate agent. She said that throughout her treatment, she was greatly helped by John Hornacek, her husband of 54 years; four sons, including eldest son Jeff, who is head coach of the New York Knicks; daughters-in-law; 10 grandchildren; sister Bev and brother-in-law Pete; and many friends.

“Each and every one of them has been a huge support,” Mrs. Hornacek said.

Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood that progresses rapidly without treatment. Acute myeloid leukemia (M3) is an especially aggressive subtype that also is known as acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Mrs. Hornacek was treated with a combination of ATRA (all trans retinoic acid) and arsenic trioxide. ATRA, a form of vitamin A, is taken orally. It causes leukemia cells to mature into healthy white blood cells. Arsenic trioxide, which is injected, causes leukemia cells to die in the normal fashion, a process called apoptosis or programmed cell death.

Arsenic has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. And it was Chinese researchers who first reported that arsenic and ATRA are effective against acute myeloid leukemia (M3). Among the members of the Chinese research team was Jiwang Zhang, MD, PhD, who now is an associate professor in the department of pathology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Loyola was among the centers that participated in clinical trials several years ago that confirmed the ATRA-arsenic combination is effective in treating acute myeloid leukemia (M3). The therapy has become standard treatment.

Loyola Medicine is nationally recognized for its expert team of specially trained cancer doctors who come from a wide variety of clinical specialties, such as surgery, radiation therapy and medical oncology. These multidisciplinary specialists provide the expertise, translational research experience and compassionate care needed to diagnose and treat cancer. They work together, taking a collaborative approach to cancer care.  

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Loyola University Medical Center’s campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of Chicago’s Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. At the heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation. It serves people and communities in 22 states from coast to coast with 92 hospitals, and 120 continuing care locations — including home care, hospice, PACE and senior living facilities - that provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually.