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Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Leukemia is cancer caused by white blood cells that develop abnormally in bone marrow. CML occurs when granulocytes, a mature type of white blood cell, do not fully form. Abnormal granulocytes do not function properly, and they crowd out healthy blood cells.

Chronic myeloid leukemia is more common in adults, occurring usually around age 65. It is rare in younger adults, teens and children. The five-year survival rate is over 90 percent and is improving because of new, targeted therapy drugs.

Chronic myeloid leukemia symptoms

People who have CML may not notice symptoms because the disease develops slowly. Some known symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen
  • Bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats

Chronic myeloid leukemia cause and risk factors

An abnormal chromosome develops, which creates a genetic mutation and leads to developing CML. Physicians are not sure what causes the chromosome to become abnormal.

The only known risk factor is exposure to high levels of radiation, such as in the following situations:

  • Surviving an atomic bomb explosion
  • Being in or near a nuclear reactor accident
  • Receiving high-dose radiation treatment for other cancers

How can I get help for chronic myeloid leukemia?

Your physician may find CML through a routine blood test. At Rush, the leukemia specialists will recommend further tests to confirm the diagnosis, including the following:

  • Blood tests to check for abnormal blood cell and platelet counts
  • Tests of previous bone marrow studies to look for specific chromosome abnormalities
  • Needle aspiration or biopsy (if necessary) for a new sample of bone marrow
  • Molecular test to look for certain markers in leukemia cells that can be targeted with specific drugs

Care for chronic myeloid leukemia at Rush

Treatment goals for CML focus on relieving symptoms and eliminating as many leukemia cells as possible. The leukemia experts at Rush may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Targeted therapy using oral medications to damage or kill CML cells
  • Chemotherapy using drugs that damage or kill abnormal granulocytes
  • Investigational drugs if you are not tolerating or responding to standard therapy
  • Stem cell transplantation from a healthy donor, to restore bone marrow after chemotherapy or to treat patients who do not respond to other treatments
  • Follow-up tests to monitor your condition

Why choose Rush for chronic myeloid leukemia care?

  • At Rush, patients receive expert care from experienced leukemia specialists. The Rush Leukemia Program and the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic hold accreditations and recognition from several health care groups.
  • If eligible, patients can participate in clinical trials conducted by research physicians at Rush, enabling them to receive the newest drugs and other treatments.
  • Rush has an experienced, multidisciplinary team of specialists in cancer, blood, pathology, diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy and stem cell transplants. The team meets weekly to determine the best treatment for each new patient. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition