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Chemotherapy for CML

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment is not used much for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). The reason is because chemotherapy is seldom successful in eliminating the cells that have the Philadelphia chromosome, which almost all people with CML have in their leukemia cells. But chemotherapy can often control the white blood cell count.

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. That means the drugs travel all through your body in your bloodstream. It works in a variety of ways. It may disrupt cell growth. Or it may keep cells from reproducing. The first goal of chemotherapy is to kill enough leukemia cells to put the disease into remission and keep it there. Remission is when there is no longer a sign of the disease.

Making the decision to have chemotherapy for CML

Chemotherapy is no longer the preferred treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). However, your doctor may recommend it if any of these cases applies to you:

  • You are getting ready to have a stem cell transplant. Chemotherapy is used to kill leukemia cells in your bone marrow before transplant.

  • Your leukemia is in the chronic, accelerated, or blast phase, and none of the other treatments are working. In this case, chemotherapy is used to ease symptoms rather than to try and cure CML.

  • Your leukemia is in the blast phase, and you're taking a targeted therapy such as Gleevec (imatinib). Chemotherapy may sometimes be added to try to get the leukemia under control in preparation for a stem cell transplant.

  • Your leukemia has relapsed, and none of the other treatments have worked.  

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