Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Chronic myelogenous leukemia

What is chronic myelogenous leukemia?

Chronic myelogenous leukemia, referred to as CML, is a cancer of the blood in which too many granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced in the bone marrow.

Normally, bone marrow cells mature into several different types of blood cells. CML affects the young blood cells (called blasts) that develop into a type of white blood cell (called granulocytes). The main function of granulocytes is to destroy bacteria. The blasts, which do not mature and become too numerous, remain in the bone marrow and blood.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia can occur over a period of months or years. A specific chromosome rearrangement is found in patients with CML. Part of chromosome 9 breaks off and attaches itself to chromosome 22, so that there is an exchange of genetic material between these two chromosomes. This rearrangement changes the position and functions of certain genes, which results in uncontrolled cell growth. Other chromosome abnormalities also can be present.

CML occurs mainly in adults and is rare in children.

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What are the symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia; however, each individual may experience symptoms differently:

  • Anemia
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Fever
  • Persistent weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Aches in bones and joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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How is chronic myelogenous leukemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for chronic myelogenous leukemia may include:

  • Additional blood tests and other evaluation procedures.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy – a procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the number, size and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.
  • Spinal tap/lumbar puncture – a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal (the area around the spinal cord). The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. Cerebral spinal fluid is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

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Treatment for myelogenous leukemia

Specific treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the disease.
  • Your opinion or preference.

Treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy.
  • Biological therapy using the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Stem cell transplantation.
  • Splenectomy surgery to remove the spleen.