Learning that you have a cancer like leukemia can be devastating. So when Gail J. Roboz, MD, has to tell patients they have chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), she tries to emphasize the positive.
"The bad news is you do have a type of leukemia, but the good news is if you have to pick a type of leukemia, you picked a good one to have," the associate professor of medicine and director of the Leukemia Program at Weill Cornell Medical Center tells her patients. "The new treatments for CML have completely revolutionized care. Many patients can be treated with pills, and can have an excellent to nearly perfect quality of life."
The medication used to treat CML is very good at keeping the disease under control. But in order for you to have the best possible response, you must play an active part in your own care. That means following your CML treatment so that you have a complete response and keeping up with your tests to prevent a relapse.
Living with CML
Most people are diagnosed with CML when they are still in the chronic phase -- the earliest stage of the disease. In the chronic phase, the number of abnormal white blood cells in your body is still low and the disease is easiest to treat.
Your doctor will likely start your CML treatment with a drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). TKI drugs target tyrosine kinase, the abnormal protein that causes your body to produce abnormal white blood cells. Kinase inhibitors include Bosulif, Gleevec, Iclusig, Ponatinib, Sprycel, and Tasigna.
With drug treatment, your doctor will try to normalize your blood count and eliminate the abnormal white blood cells. The treatment will also help prevent your CML from progressing to the more serious accelerated and blastic phases. In the later phases, CML becomes harder to treat.
TKI drugs work quickly -- and effectively. "Our hope is that blood counts will go to normal within six weeks to three months after starting treatment," Roboz says.