Leukemia--Chronic Myeloid (Myelogenous) Overview

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Treating Leukemia - Chronic Myeloid (CML) TOPICS

Chemotherapy for chronic myeloid leukemia

Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually the drugs are given into a vein or taken by mouth. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body. Any drug used to treat cancer (including imatinib/Gleevec and drugs like it) can be thought of as chemo, but here chemo means standard chemo drugs, those that kill all cells that grow and divide quickly.

Chemo was once the main treatment for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). But it is used much less often now that there are drugs like imatinib. Its main role at this time is as part of the treatment during a stem cell transplant. It may also be used by itself later in the course of disease if other treatments have stopped working.

Side effects of chemo

While chemo drugs kill cancer cells, they can also damage normal cells that are growing quickly. Possible side effects could include:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased risk of infection (from low white blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
  • Tiredness (from low red blood cell counts)

These side effects are usually short-term and go away once treatment is finished.

There are often ways to manage these side effects during treatment. For instance, there are drugs than can be taken along with the chemo to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. Drugs known as growth factors are sometimes given to keep blood counts up and reduce the chance of infection. . For more information on infections and how to avoid them, see our document Infections in People With Cancer.

You might be given antibiotics before you have signs of infection or at the earliest sign that you may be getting an infection. If your platelet counts are low, you might get platelet transfusions. You might also get medicines or red blood cell transfusions if low red blood cell counts are causing shortness of breath or tiredness.


Last Medical Review: 08/13/2013
Last Revised: 02/10/2014