Treatments for chronic myelogenous leukemia

If you have chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your needs and may include a combination of different treatments. When deciding which treatments to offer for CML, your healthcare team will consider:

  • your age
  • the phase of CML
  • other prognostic factors, including blood cell counts and chromosome changes
  • if there is a matched stem cell donor
  • your overall health

Response to treatment

During treatment for CML, your healthcare team will monitor you closely for response to treatment. They watch your blood cell counts closely. They also check the blood and bone marrow to see if any cells have the Philadelphia chromosome.

Often, instead of searching for the Philadelphia chromosome , the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the BCR-ABL translocation may be done. This test is very sensitive. It can find small amounts of the BCR-ABL fusion gene, which is created by the Philadelphia chromosome and leads to the development of CML.

Your healthcare team will develop a plan to monitor the CML during treatment. Monitoring may include:

  • complete blood count (CBC) every week until the blood cell counts are stable, and then less frequently
  • sometimes, cytogenetic tests (analysis of the cells) on the bone marrow after the start of treatment
  • PCR or reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) tests on the blood at diagnosis and about every 3 months during treatment

Your healthcare team uses these tests to look for hematologic, cytogenetic and molecular responses to treatment. About 70% of people have a complete cytogenetic response within 1 year of starting targeted therapy. After 1 year, even more people will have a complete cytogenic response. Many of these people will also have a complete molecular response. The healthcare team can’t tell if the CML is cured based on these responses, so targeted therapy is usually continued indefinitely.

Hematologic response

The hematologic response usually occurs within the first 3 months of starting treatment.

Complete hematologic response means that:

  • the blood cell counts have returned to normal
  • there are no leukemia cells in the blood
  • the spleen has returned to a normal size

Partial hematologic response is similar to a complete response, but all 3 conditions have not been met.

Cytogenetic response

The cytogenetic response may take several months or longer to occur. It is based on how many cells in the blood or bone marrow have the Philadelphia chromosome.

Complete cytogenetic response means that no cells that have the Philadelphia chromosome are found in the blood or bone marrow.

Partial cytogenetic response means that less than 35% of cells have the Philadelphia chromosome.

Major cytogenetic response is sometimes used to refer to either a complete or partial cytogenetic response.

Minor cytogenetic response means that 35%–90% of cells have the Philadelphia chromosome.

Molecular response

Molecular response is based on PCR test results.

Complete molecular response means that the BCR-ABL fusion gene is not found in any cells in the blood.

Major molecular response means that only a small number of cells in the blood have the BCR-ABL fusion gene.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Leukemia - Chronic Myeloid (Myelogenous). Atlanta, GA: 2013: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003112-pdf.pdf.
  • Druker BJ, Lee SJ . Chronic myelogenous leukemia. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 133: pp. 1962-1972.
  • Health Canada. Drugs and Health Products: Summary Basis of Decision (SBD): Bosulif. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada; 2014: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodpharma/sbd-smd/drug-med/sbd_smd_2014_bosulif_152211-eng.php.
  • Kurtin SE . Leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. Yarbro, CH, Wujcki D, & Holmes Gobel B. (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011: 57: pp. 1369-1398.
  • O'Brien SG, Goldman JM . Diagnosis and treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia. Wiernik PH, Goldman JM, Dutcher JP & Kyle RA (eds.). Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood. 5th ed. Springer; 2013: 5: pp. 45-62.

Treatments for CML in the chronic phase

Treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia is based on factors including your age, phase of the CML and your overall health. Learn about treatments for CML.

Treatments for CML in the accelerated phase

There are several treatments for accelerated phase chronic myelogenous leukemia. Learn about treatments that may be offered to treat accelerated phase CML.

Treatments for CML in the blast phase

There are several treatments used for blast phase chronic myelogenous leukemia. Learn about treatments that may be offered to treat blast phase CML.

Treatments for relapsed or refractory chronic myelogenous leukemia

Relapsed and refractory chronic myelogenous leukemia have several treatment options. Learn about treatments for relapsed or refractory CML.

Targeted therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells. Learn when it is used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).

Stem cell transplant for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Stem cell transplant replaces damaged stem cells or bone marrow. Learn about stem cell transplant for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).

Biological therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Biological therapy may be used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia in the chronic or accelerated phase. Learn about biological therapy for CML.

Chemotherapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells and is used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia for different reasons. Learn about chemotherapy for CML.

Surgery for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Surgery to remove the spleen is sometimes used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. Learn about splenectomy and why it is used in treating CML.

Radiation therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Radiation uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. Learn about radiation therapy for CML.

Supportive therapy

Supportive therapy is given to treat the complications of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and its treatments. Learn about supportive therapy for CML.

Follow-up after treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia

Follow-up after chronic myelogenous leukemia treatment varies. Learn about follow-up appointments and the procedures and tests that may be done for CML.