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).

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy or damage leukaemia cells. These drugs affect with the way leukaemia cells grow and divide.

About chemotherapy for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

Chemotherapy is only sometimes used for CML.

Chemotherapy tablets

Some people may be given low-dose chemotherapy if the 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 whether the CML is likely to respond to a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI).

The most commonly used chemotherapy drug for CML is hydroxycarbamide. You take this as tablets. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will tell you how many tablets to take. Your doctors will usually change your treatment to a TKI when they have your test results.

Combination chemotherapy

You may be given a combination of chemotherapy drugs if the CML is in the blast phase. This usually involves a nurse giving you 3 or 4 chemotherapy drugs 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 severe side effects.

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

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

    Smith G, Apperley J, Milojkovic D, et al. A British Society for Haematology Guideline on the diagnosis and management of chronic myeloid leukaemia. British Journal of Haematology, 2020; 191, 2, Available from [accessed on October 2020].

    Hochhaus A, Saussele S, Rosti G, et al. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines. Annals of Oncology, 2017; 28 (suppl 4), iv41-iv51. Available from [accessed on October 2020].

  • 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.

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We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

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Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 December 2020
Next review: 01 December 2023

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.