Which physical findings are characteristic of 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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Splenomegaly is the most common physical finding in patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). In more than 50% of the patients with CML, the spleen extends more than 5 cm below the left costal margin at time of discovery.

The size of the spleen correlates with the peripheral blood granulocyte counts, with the largest spleens being observed in patients with high WBC counts. A very large spleen is usually a harbinger of the transformation into an acute blast crisis form of the disease.

Hepatomegaly also occurs, although less commonly than splenomegaly. Hepatomegaly is usually part of the extramedullary hematopoiesis occurring in the spleen.

Physical findings of leukostasis and hyperviscosity can occur in some patients, with extraordinary elevation of their WBC counts, exceeding 300,000-600,000 cells/μL. Upon funduscopy, the retina may show papilledema, venous obstruction, and hemorrhages.

The blast crisis is marked by an increase in the bone marrow or peripheral blood blast count or by the development of soft-tissue or skin leukemic infiltrates. Typical symptoms are due to increasing anemia, thrombocytopenia, basophilia, a rapidly enlarging spleen, and failure of the usual medications to control leukocytosis and splenomegaly.

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