The goal of chronic myelogenous leukemia treatment is to eliminate the blood cells that contain the abnormal BCR-ABL gene that causes the overabundance of diseased blood cells. For most people, treatment begins with targeted drugs that may help achieve a long-term remission of the disease.
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drugs are designed to attack cancer by focusing on a specific aspect of cancer cells that allows them to grow and multiply. In chronic myelogenous leukemia, the target of these drugs is the protein produced by the BCR-ABL gene — tyrosine kinase.
Targeted drugs that block the action of tyrosine kinase include:
- Imatinib (Gleevec)
- Dasatinib (Sprycel)
- Nilotinib (Tasigna)
- Bosutinib (Bosulif)
- Ponatinib (Iclusig)
Targeted drugs are the initial treatment for people diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Side effects of these targeted drugs include swelling or puffiness of the skin, nausea, muscle cramps, fatigue, diarrhea and skin rashes.
Blood tests to detect the presence of the BCR-ABL gene are used to monitor the effectiveness of targeted drug therapy. If the disease doesn't respond or becomes resistant to targeted therapy, doctors may consider other targeted drugs, such as omacetaxine (Synribo), or other treatments.
Doctors haven't determined a safe point at which people with chronic myelogenous leukemia can stop taking targeted drugs. For this reason, most people continue to take targeted drugs even when blood tests show remission of the disease. In certain situations, you and your doctor might consider stopping treatment with targeted drugs after considering the benefits and risks.
Bone marrow transplant
A bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, offers the only chance for a definitive cure for chronic myelogenous leukemia. However, it's usually reserved for people who haven't been helped by other treatments because bone marrow transplants have risks and carry a high rate of serious complications.
During a bone marrow transplant, high doses of chemotherapy drugs are used to kill the blood-forming cells in your bone marrow. Then blood stem cells from a donor are infused into your bloodstream. The new cells form new, healthy blood cells to replace the diseased cells.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that kills fast-growing cells in the body, including leukemia cells. Chemotherapy drugs are sometimes combined with targeted drug therapy to treat aggressive chronic myelogenous leukemia. Side effects of chemotherapy drugs depend on what drugs you take.
Clinical trials study the latest treatment for diseases or new ways of using existing treatments. Enrolling in a clinical trial for chronic myelogenous leukemia may give you the chance to try the latest treatment, but it can't guarantee a cure. Talk to your doctor about what clinical trials are available to you. Together you can discuss the benefits and risks of a clinical trial.