A Review Of Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia


Chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML), also known as chronic myeloid leukaemia, is a cancer of the white blood cells. It is a form of leukaemia characterized by the increased and unregulated growth of myeloid cells in the bone marrow and the accumulation of these cells in the blood. CML is a clonal bone marrow stem cell disorder in which a proliferation of mature granulocytes (neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils) and their precursors is found. It is a type of myeloproliferative neoplasm associated with a characteristic chromosomal translocation called the Philadelphia chromosome.

CML is largely treated with targeted drugs called tyrosine-kinase inhibitors (TKIs) which have led to dramatically improved long-term survival rates since 2001. These drugs have revolutionized treatment of this disease and allow most patients to have a good quality of life when compared to the former chemotherapy drugs. In Western countries, CML accounts for 15–25% of all adult leukaemia’s and 14% of leukaemia’s overall (including the paediatric population, where CML is less common).

CML was the first cancer to be linked to a clear genetic abnormality, the chromosomal translocation known as the Philadelphia chromosome. In this translocation, parts of two chromosomes (the 9th and 22nd) switch places. As a result, part of the BCR ("breakpoint cluster region") gene from chromosome 22 is fused with the ABL gene on chromosome 9. This abnormal "fusion" gene generates a protein of p210 or sometimes p185 weight (p210 is short for 210 kDa protein, a shorthand used for characterizing proteins based solely on size). Because abl carries a domain that can add phosphate groups to tyrosine residues (a tyrosine kinase), the bcr-abl fusion gene product is also a tyrosine kinase

The way CML presents depends on the stage of the disease at diagnosis as it has been known to skip stages in some cases.

Most patients (~90%) are diagnosed during the chronic stage which is most often asymptomatic. In these cases it may be diagnosed incidentally with an elevated white blood cell count on a routine laboratory test. It can also present with symptoms indicative of hepatosplenomegaly and the resulting upper quadrant pain this causes. The enlarged spleen may put pressure on the stomach causing a loss of appetite and resulting weight loss. It may also present with mild fever and night sweats due to an elevated basal level of metabolism.

Some (<10%) are diagnosed during the accelerated stage which most often presents bleeding, petechiae and ecchymosis. In these patients fevers are most commonly the result of opportunistic infections.

Some patients are initially diagnosed in the blast phase in which the symptoms are most likely fever, bone pain and an increase in bone marrow fibrosis

The only curative treatment for CML is a bone marrow transplant or an allogeneic stem cell transplant. Other than this there are four major mainstays of treatment in CML: treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors, myelosuppressive or leukopheresis therapy (to counteract the leukocytosis during early treatment), splenectomy and interferon alfa-2b treatment. Due to the high median age of patients with CML it is relatively rare for CML to be seen in pregnant women, despite this, however, chronic myelogenous leukaemia can be treated with relative safety at any time during pregnancy with Interferon-alpha hormones.

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