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Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs – either intravenously or orally – to destroy cancer cells. Because chemo drugs enter the bloodstream, they are useful for treating blood cancers like chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) that spread throughout the body.

When is chemotherapy used as a treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia?

Targeted therapy (drugs that target specific genes or proteins) has become a primary treatment for CML, as it can be more effective than standard chemotherapy; however, chemo can be a good option if targeted therapy stops working. Chemotherapy may be used for CML to help lower white blood cell counts and shrink an enlarged spleen, which often occurs with leukemia.

Chemotherapy is also used as part of a blood and marrow transplant, another treatment that can be recommended for blood cancers like chronic myeloid leukemia. This is another treatment option that might be suggested if targeted therapy is no longer working. A stem cell transplant may also be beneficial for patients with advanced CML. High-dose chemotherapy can be effective in destroying the rapidly dividing malignant cells of blood cancers, but it also attacks the bone marrow cells. That’s why a stem cell transplant is performed – to replenish the patient’s blood-forming cells of the bone marrow.

What to expect from chemotherapy treatment

Chemo is usually given on a schedule in several cycles over a span of time. Therapy may include a single chemo drug or a combination of multiple medications. The type of medication, dosage and schedule varies from patient to patient, and is determined by a medical oncologist.

Side effects vary based on the type of chemotherapy drugs and the length of use, but may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Low blood cell or platelet counts
  • Fatigue

For more information about how chemotherapy is used as a treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia, or to meet with oncologists specializing in leukemia, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. Referrals are not required to visit Moffitt Cancer Center.