Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia


What is it?

Chronic myeloid leukaemia is a form of blood cancer, it affects blood cells which help fight infection. Cancer means cell growth becomes out of control, there are too many cells made in an unorganised manner which cause the symptoms and problems of chronic myeloid leukaemia. As the problem is in the blood, the cancer cells can easily travel around the body causing symptoms in several different places. The exact cause of the disease is unclear.


Who gets it?

It is most commonly diagnosed in those aged around 50, but can occur at any age. It is slightly more common in men.


What are the symptoms?

Sometimes patients are unaware anything is wrong and it can be picked up when performing tests for another reason. Vague symptoms such as feeling tired, fatigued, repeated infections, noticing weight loss and sweating episodes can be common. The disease commonly affects the spleenAn organ in the left upper abdomen which removes old red blood cells from the blood, causing it to get bigger and patients may notice this as a lump underneath their ribs on the left hand side.


How is it diagnosed?

There are lots of clues on regular blood tests such as anaemiaAnaemia is the reduced capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to the organs and tissues of the body. It commonly results in tiredness, breathlessness and pallor and too many white blood cells, the cells which help fight infection. Often more specialised tests are needed to gain further information and clinch the diagnosis. These include a bone marrow biopsy, part of this sample is sent to London for specialist tests. Information gained helps doctors to know which phase the disease is in.

Most commonly the disease is in a ‘chronic phase’ (or long term phase). Patients tend not to feel too unwell and new treatments help prolong this phase. Chronic myeloid leukaemia can switch into a different form of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukaemia. Patients are often unwell when the disease reaches this stage.


How is it treated?

A new drug called Glivec (Imatinib is the other name for the drug) has been a revolution to chronic myeloid leukaemia treatment. Glivec has been very successful in significantly extending survival in patients.


Further information

Chronic myeloid leukaemia at Macmillian cancer support

Chronic myeloid leukaemia at NHS choices



Info icon

Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

Back to information index