The general goal of any treatment for CML is the reduction of Philadelphia (Ph) chromosomes to undetectable levels. Treatment options for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) include drugs that inhibit the BCR-ABL gene, stem cell transplantations, anti-cancer drugs such as interferon, and experimental treatments.
TKIs: Blocking the gene that causes CML
CML was the first human cancer to be linked to a single, acquired abnormal gene, the BCR-ABL gene. In CML, unlike other cancers, the link between the disease and the acquired abnormal gene led to the development of CML treatments that can inhibit the BCR-ABL gene that causes your body to make leukemia cells. These are called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or TKIs.
In the past several years, most people with chronic phase CML have been treated with TKIs. If you're a CML patient, taking a TKI means you will not be going to the doctor's office for chemotherapy infusions like many people with other kinds of cancer. Instead, you'll be taking pills, which you need to do daily, as prescribed by your doctor. Depending on the TKI your doctor prescribes, there are different regimens and dosing instructions with each. Be sure to discuss these with your doctor.
Stem cell transplants
Stem cell transplantation is the only treatment that provides a potential cure for CML. A patient receives high doses of chemotherapy to destroy the bone marrow along with the leukemia cells in the body, and suppress the immune system. This is followed by an infusion of healthy, blood-forming stem cells donated by another person who has a nearly identical tissue type (either a family member or an unrelated donor).
Stem cell transplantation is not appropriate for everyone. If you are interested, your oncologist will explain the advantages and disadvantages, including the short-term and long-term side effects, so that together you can explore whether or not it's a treatment option for you.
Slowing the rapid growth of cancer cells
Interferon was once a primary treatment for CML. These days, interferon may be used following a stem cell transplant or after several other treatments have been tried.
Chemotherapy may also be used to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells before stem cell transplantation.
CML treatments under development may be available to you by enrolling in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a research study designed to evaluate current treatments, or to gather information on the safety and effectiveness of experimental CML treatments.
No matter what treatment you're on, you'll want to be an active partner in your treatment.
- Understanding your oncologist's expectations and your personal treatment goals
- Making sure your treatment is meeting those expectations and those goals
- Knowing your options, wherever you are in your treatment
- Always keeping open the lines of communication with your doctor
What's going on in CML treatment research?
Research on CML is conducted round the world, in labs and through clinical trials. This dedication may lead to new discoveries and treatments. For example, some teams are focusing on drug resistance and some are looking at new approaches to treat the disease. There are also investigations studying the effectiveness of vaccine therapy—an approach thought to build up an immune response—in treating patients who have CML.
You can learn more about these promising areas by visiting:
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (Clinical Trials for CML)
The American Cancer Society (What's new in CML research).