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What to Expect From CML Treatment: An Overview

Regular Testing

While you're taking TKIs, you’ll have regular blood tests, including:

  • A complete blood count to check white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets
  • A blood cell exam to determine the percentage of abnormal blood cells
  • Cytogenetic analysis to check for the abnormal Philadelphia chromosome
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to look for the BCR-ABL gene

During the first 3 months, you'll likely have a complete round of blood tests every 2 weeks.

At 3 months, you’ll get a follow-up bone marrow study. After the third month, you'll have blood and bone marrow tests at least once every 6 months until you have a complete cytogenetic response.

Once you have a complete cytogenetic and molecular response, you'll get a PCR test every 3-6 months and cytogenetic testing once every year.

What if TKIs Don’t Work?

There are other CML treatment options:

  • Immunotherapy helps your immune system destroy the cancer. One example is a drug, interferon, that is injected daily.
  • Chemotherapy kills abnormal cells in the body, but it isn't as effective for CML as it is for other types of leukemia. It’s usually reserved for patients in blast crisis, a phase when infections and bleeding are common and can be life-threatening.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant is the only potential cure for CML. It replaces abnormal white blood cells with stem cells from a matched donor and results in healthy blood cells being made. But there are serious risks, including graft-versus-host disease, called GVHD. This happens when new stem cells attack the body.

Now that TKI drugs can turn CML into a chronic disease, stem cell transplants are reserved for people who aren't helped by TKIs, or people in crisis.

When CML Progresses

If other treatments don't work, experimental treatment may be an option. Researchers test new therapies in clinical trials, which could give you access to cutting-edge treatments not yet available to the general public. To find out more, talk to your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on February 13, 2014
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