Stiliyan Petrov Retiring: 5 Things To Know About Aston Villa Captain’s Leukemia Battle

By Philip Ross on May 9, 2013 1:12 PM EDT

petrov
Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia in March 2012, announced his retirement from football on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito)

UK football player Stiliyan Petrov has announced his retirement from Aston Villa, an English professional football club based in Birmingham. The 33-year-old football captain, who is from Bulgaria, has been battling leukemia cancer for more than a year.

The football club posted Petrov's retirement announcement to its website.

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"It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from the game," the Bulgarian midfielder said in the statement released by Aston Villa. "The emotions are overwhelming really, but the continued support of family, friends and the great people I have come to know will make it easier for me to move on from the only life I've ever known."

BBC reports that Petrov joined Villa in 2006 after spending seven seasons with Scotland's team Celtic. He was traded to Villa for 6.5 million euros, or $8.5 million. The football player was diagnosed with leukemia in March 2012, but is reportedly now in remission.

"I have finished my high intensity treatment," he said. "From now on I'll be on the softer treatment, which is two years on tablets. I feel lucky. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been."

Here are five things to know about the cancer that afflicts the Bulgarian football athlete:

Leukemia is cancer of the bones
Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells and starts in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. According to the National Cancer Institute, the cancer attacks the blood-forming tissue and causes it to produce large numbers of blood cells that then enter the bloodstream. These cells, unlike normal ones, don't die when they should. They crowd normal blood cells, preventing them from doing their work, like fighting infection or forming blood clots.  

The survival rate for leukemia patients is less than 50 percent
The Guardian reports that cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years, but that this figure varies for different types of cancer. According to a 2001 study by Cancer Research UK, the five-year survival estimates for leukemia are on the lower end of the cancer survival spectrum -- around 38 percent for men and 36 percent for women. This is far less than the 95 percent survival rate for testicular cancer, 84 percent for Hodgkin's lymphoma and 78 percent for melanoma.

Most leukemia patients are over 50 years of age
According to the National Cancer Institute, the median age at diagnosis for leukemia cases between 2006 and 2010 was 66 years of age; about 10 percent were diagnosed under the age of 20.

General symptoms of leukemia range from mild to severe
When people first show signs of leukemia, they may exhibit symptoms of general weakness or fatigue as well as flu-like feelings. Other indicators of leukemia include weight loss, frequent infections, bruising or bleeding easily, joint pain, swollen lymph glands or breathlessness.

Leukemia is treated with chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is the main treatment for leukemia. If the patient has a high white blood cell count upon diagnosis, they may have to undergo a procedure called leukapheresis, which removes the abnormal white blood cells from the blood.

If chemotherapy works, the patient is said to be in remission. He then undergoes "maintenance treatment," which may include additional chemo, a donor transplant or a transplant with your own blood stem cells, to keep the cancer at bay.

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