Chronic Myelocytic Leukemia
(CML; Chronic Myeloid Leukemia; Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia; Chronic Granulocytic Leukemia)
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Under normal circumstances, the bone marrow makes:
- Myeloblasts—a stem cell that evolves into specific types of white blood cells that help the body fight infection
- Red blood cells (RBCs)—carry oxygen
- Platelets—a blood component involved in clotting blood
CML progresses gradually. It is often slow growing for many years. Over time, it may change into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). This is a more aggressive type of leukemia. It progresses more rapidly and is more serious.
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body become abnormal. They divide without control or order. Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells and their parent cells. Leukemia cells do not function normally. In this case, they cannot fight infections. This means that the person is more likely to become infected with viruses or bacteria. The cancerous cells also overgrow the bone marrow. This forces other normal cells, like platelets out. Platelets are needed to help the blood clot. As a result, people with leukemia may bleed more easily.
CML is almost always associated with a gene mutation. The gene is in a chromosome called the Philadelphia chromosome. This mutation occurs during life. It is not passed from parent to child. In most cases, the cause of the mutation is not known. Studies show that exposure to large doses of radiation is associated with development of CML. It may be found in survivors of nuclear accidents or of atomic bomb blasts. However, most people with the condition have not been exposed to radiation.
CML is more common in men and in those of increasing age. Other factors that may increase your chances of CML:
- Smoking is the only lifestyle factor that has been linked to leukemia. Its association with CML is still unclear.
- Exposure to atomic bomb radiation.
- Exposure to nuclear reactor accident.
CML may cause:
- Lack of energy
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs
- Bone pain
- Joint pain
- Reduced exercise tolerance
- Enlargement of the liver or spleen
- Unexplained bleeding or unusual bruising
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your liver and spleen will be examined for swelling. The doctor will also look for swelling in lymph nodes in the armpits, groin, or neck.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Bone marrow biopsy
- Routine microscopic exam—examination of a sample of blood, bone marrow, lymph node tissue, or cerebrospinal fluid
- Bone, blood marrow, lymph node tissue, or cerebrospinal fluid tests—to distinguish between types of leukemia
- Cytogenetic analysis—to look for DNA changes in the lymphocytes
- Immunophenotyping—examination of the proteins on cell surfaces and the antibodies produced by the body
Imaging tests can evaluate other bodily structures. These can be done with:
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include:
Targeted Drug Therapy
Targeted drug therapy inhibits the molecule that triggers the development of leukemia and the gene that is associated with it. This medication is often used in early stages of CML.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given by pill, injection, or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. While this will focus on cancer cells, some healthy cells are also killed.
High-dose Chemotherapy with Stem Cell Transplant
Chemotherapy is followed by a stem cell transplant. These will replace blood-forming cells destroyed by cancer treatment. Stem cells are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or donor. They are then infused into the patient.
Donor Lymphocyte Infusion
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell. A donor’s cells are infused into the patient. The cancer cells do not recognize these cells. They do not attack them.
A splenectomy is a procedure to remove the spleen. It may be done if the spleen has become enlarged or if other complications develop.
There are no current guidelines to prevent CML because the cause is unknown.
American Cancer Society
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Provincial Health Services Authority
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/chronic-myeloid-leukemia.html. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Chronic myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115889/Chronic-myeloid-leukemia-CML. Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed January 8, 2018.
General information about chronic myelogenous leukemia. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/cml-treatment-pdq. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 12/20/2014