Leukemia Chronic Myelogenous Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill cancer cells. Advances in targeted cancer-killing medications have reduced the importance of nonspecific chemotherapy drugs as a chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) treatment. Although it is no longer the first treatment choice for CML, chemotherapy for leukemia still plays an important role, especially if targeted medication proves ineffective.

What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses certain drugs with cancer-killing properties to destroy cancer cells. The goal of chemotherapy drugs is to reduce the number of cancer cells in the body. Some cancers can be cured with chemotherapy drugs. Others, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia, cannot be cured with chemotherapy alone. However, chemotherapy treatment can reduce leukemia cells to the point where the cancer goes into remission.

Administering Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy for leukemia can be administered in a variety of ways. Oral chemotherapy drugs are taken by mouth. Intravenous chemotherapy delivers chemotherapy drugs directly into a blood vein, while intramuscular delivery injects the drugs into muscle tissue, usually in the arm, buttocks or thigh.

In cases where cancer invades the nervous system, chemotherapy for leukemia may be delivered directly to the nervous system through a spinal tap.

Chemotherapy for Leukemia

Imatinib therapy has, in most cases, become the treatment of choice for CML. Should imatinib therapy prove ineffective, chemotherapy drugs provide an alternative treatment option for chronic myelogenous leukemia.

The chemotherapy drug hydroxycarbamide (also called “hydroxyurea”) treats CML. Other drugs may be used during chemotherapy for leukemia, including busulfan, but hydroxycarbamide is the most common choice.

Chemotherapy Drugs and Stem Cell Transplants

Chemotherapy for leukemia plays an important role in stem cell transplantation. High dose chemotherapy drugs perform an important role prior to stem cell transplantation. The medication kills most, if not all, leukemia cells to prepare the bone marrow for the healthy stem cells provided by the donor.

Chemotherapy Drugs and Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting fast-growing cells. Cancer cells reproduce rapidly, but unfortunately, so do healthy cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles and gastrointestinal tract. Damage to healthy cells by chemotherapy drugs causes a variety of symptoms, including skin rashes, hair loss, fatigue, increased risk of infections, nausea and vomiting.

Chemotherapy side effects differ from person to person, and few people experience all potential side effects. The severity of chemotherapy side effects depends on individual health and the type of chemotherapy drugs prescribed. In most cases, the benefits of treatment outweigh the discomfort caused by chemotherapy for leukemia.


Cancer Research UK. (2010). About chemotherapy for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/type/cml/treatment/chemotherapy/about-chemotherapy-for-chronic-myeloid-leukaemia.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2010). Chemotherapy. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page.adp?item_id=8498.

National Cancer Institute. (2009). Chronic myelogenous leukemia treatment (PDQ). Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/CML/Patient/page4.

University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenbaum Cancer Center. (2008). Chronic myelogenous leukemia. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.umgcc.org/hem_malig_program/chron_myel-stages.htm.