What is chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)?

Updated: May 23, 2021
  • Author: Emmanuel C Besa, MD; Chief Editor: Sara J Grethlein, MD, FACP  more...
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CML is one of the few cancers known to be caused by a single, specific genetic mutation. More than 90% of cases result from a cytogenetic aberration known as the Philadelphia chromosome (see Pathophysiology).

CML progresses through three phases: chronic, accelerated, and blast. In the chronic phase of disease, mature cells proliferate; in the accelerated phase, additional cytogenetic abnormalities occur; in the blast phase, immature cells rapidly proliferate. [1, 2] Approximately 85% of patients are diagnosed in the chronic phase and then progress to the accelerated and blast phases after 3-5 years. The diagnosis of CML is based on the histopathologic findings in the peripheral blood and the Philadelphia chromosome in bone marrow cells (see Workup).

CML accounts for 20% of all leukemias affecting adults. It typically affects middle-aged individuals. Uncommonly, the disease occurs in younger individuals. Younger patients may present with a more aggressive form of CML, such as in accelerated phase or blast crisis. Uncommonly, CML may appear as a disease of new onset in elderly individuals.

The goals of treatment are to achieve hematologic, cytogenetic, and molecular remission. Although a variety of medications have been used in CML, including myelosuppressive agents and interferon alfa, the tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib mesylate is currently the agent of choice, and other drugs in this category are playing increasingly important roles. However, allogeneic bone marrow transplantation is currently the only proven cure for CML. (See Treatment.)

For more information on CML, see Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) Guidelines

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