Chemotherapy for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

Anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs are used to destroy or damage leukaemia cells. Chemotherapy is only very occasionally used for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

Having chemotherapy for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy or damage leukaemia cells. It works by disrupting the way leukaemia cells grow and divide. Chemotherapy is only very occasionally used for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

Chemotherapy tablets

Some people may be given a type of gentle chemotherapy if their number of white blood cells is very high when they are first diagnosed with CML. This may be while their doctors are waiting for test results to confirm that the CML is likely to respond to a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI).

The most commonly used chemotherapy drug for CML is hydroxycarbamide. It is given as a tablet. The doctor, nurse or pharmacist will tell you how many tablets to take. You need to be sure you are taking the right dose. You will usually be changed to a TKI once the test results are available.

We have more information about hydroxycarbamide.

Combination chemotherapy

Combination chemotherapy is occasionally used if CML is in the blast phase. This usually involves a combination of 3 or 4 drugs given into a vein (intravenously).

People who are treated with a stem cell transplant usually have intensive chemotherapy as preparation for the transplant.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will tell you about the chemotherapy drugs and their possible side effects.

Side effects of chemotherapy for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

If you are taking a single chemotherapy tablet, the side effects are usually mild. Treatment with a combination of two or more chemotherapy drugs may cause more troublesome side effects.

We have more information about each different type of chemotherapy, its side effects and how to manage them.

The more common side effects of chemotherapy include:

We have more information about treatment for CML.

About our information


  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    European Leukemia Net. Recommendations for the management of chronic myeloid leukemia. 2013.

    Hoffbrand V, and Moss P. Hoffbrand’s essential haematology. 7th edition. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Leukaemia (chronic myeloid) – dastatinib, nilotinib and standard dose imatinib for the first-line treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia (part review of technology appraisal guidance 70). April 2012.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Technology appraisal guidance. 401/426/425.

    DeVita V, Lawrence T and Rosenberg S. 2016. Lymphomas and leukemias. From Cancer: principles and practice of oncology.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.