Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

One of the four main types of leukemia, chronic myeloid (or myelogenous) leukemia occurs when too many white blood cells called granulocytes are produced. This causes less room in the bone marrow for healthy white blood cells, making it easy for infections to take over the body.

It is estimated that approximately 4,800 new cases of chronic myeloid leukemia will be diagnosed in men and women this year . Chronic myeloid leukemia is rarely diagnosed in children, but rather is normally diagnosed in older adults at an average age of 66 years old.

Treatment options for chronic myeloid leukemia may consist of one or more of the following six treatment options:

Targeted Therapy

Recent scientific research has found that specific genes go awry in certain forms of cancer, which has resulted in new treatment options designed to target these genetic abnormalities. Newer oral therapies called Gleevec, Sprycel and Tasigna, which target a protein called BCR-ABL found on chronic myeloid leukemia cells, recently have become standard therapy. Since these therapies do not affect normal, noncancerous cells, the side effect profiles may be less severe than other treatment options.


A form of cancer treatment that utilizes the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer, immunotherapy was the standard therapy for chronic myeloid leukemia prior to the development of targeted therapies. An immunotherapy called interferon alpha is most often used to treat this form of leukemia. Since this type of therapy is very potent, it can cause severe flu-like symptoms such as fever, aches, and chills, which some people may not be able to tolerate.


Once one of the standard treatment options before the availability of targeted therapies, the use of chemotherapy is usually reserved for when targeted therapies stop working or as part of the treatment regimen for a stem cell transplant.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy typically is not a main treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia. However, external radiation is used as part of a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant, or is used to treat any cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the spleen where it is causing discomfort or pain.


When chronic myeloid leukemia spreads to the spleen, and chemotherapy or radiation therapy does not aid in shrinking its size, surgery may become an option in order to remove it. Otherwise, surgery does not play a large role in the treatment of this form of leukemia.

Bone Marrow or Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant

High doses of chemotherapy or radiation are given during this procedure to destroy the bone marrow cells of the patient. From there, healthy stem cells previously removed from the bone marrow or blood of the patient or a donor are then replaced in hopes that healthy white blood cells form in the bone marrow.

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