Chemotherapy for CML

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy or damage leukaemia cells. It works by disrupting the way leukaemia cells grow and divide. As the drugs circulate in the blood they can reach leukaemia cells all over the body.

Chemotherapy for CML

Although imatinib is usually the standard treatment for CML, chemotherapy is occasionally used. It‘s most likely to be used if imatinib or other TK inhibitors aren’t effective or cause severe side effects.

You may be given chemotherapy when your CML is first diagnosed – usually with a tablet. This may be when your doctors are waiting to confirm whether the CML is a type that’s likely to respond to a TK inhibitor. In this situation, treatment is usually changed to imatinib once the test results are available.

Occasionally you may need more intensive chemotherapy, involving having a combination of drugs into a vein (intravenously). This is usually used for the blast phase. People who are treated with a stem cell transplant usually have intensive chemotherapy as preparation for the transplant.

Chemotherapy tablets

Chemotherapy tablets are usually used to treat CML in the chronic phase. The most commonly used drug is hydroxycarbamide. 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 take the tablets every day for as long as they’re working, or until test results confirm your CML is likely to respond to a TK inhibitor. The dose of the tablets may be changed depending on the results of regular blood tests.

Your treatment may be stopped for a while if your number of white blood cells falls below a certain level.

We have more information about hydroxycarbamide.

Combination chemotherapy

If your CML starts to behave more like an acute leukaemia, or if you are going to have high-dose treatment with a stem cell transplant, you will be given more intensive chemotherapy. This generally means a combination of three or four drugs given by injection into a vein (intravenously).

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

To make it easier for you to have intravenous chemotherapy, and so you don’t need frequent injections, you may have a plastic tube called a central line put into a vein in your chest. Sometimes a PICC (peripherally inserted central venous catheter) line or an implantable port may be used instead of a central line.