Leukemia Chronic Myelogenous Kinase Inhibitors

The development of protein kinase inhibitors dramatically changed the treatment landscape for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Rather than destroying fast-growing cells indiscriminately, kinase inhibitors attack cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy cells. These drugs are now the standard first-line treatment for CML.

Advantages of Targeted Treatment for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Chemotherapy was once the primary chronic myelogenous leukemia treatment. However, chemotherapy can cause many uncomfortable and potentially dangerous side effects, including hair loss, gastrointestinal problems and an increased risk of infection.

Chemotherapy side effects occur because the medication targets fast-growing cancer cells. While cancer cells reproduce rapidly, so do other cells, such as those in the blood, hair and intestinal tract. The death of these cells — not the cancer itself — produces most of the side effects associated with this treatment for leukemia.

Protein kinase inhibitors are designed to attack only cancer cells, thereby reducing damage to healthy cells. When used as a treatment for leukemia, these drugs greatly improve CML survival rates.

What Are Kinase Inhibitors?

Protein kinase inhibitors are a type of treatment for leukemia that interferes with the reproductive abilities of cancer cells. Kinases are enzymes that help signal when a cell division should occur. Cancer cells distinguish themselves by reproducing uncontrollably.

Kinase inhibitors, such as imatinib, interrupt cell division. Imatinib has proven very successful in the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia, with five-year survival rates for CML patients treated with the kinase inhibitor exceeding 90 percent, according to Merck Pharmaceuticals (2008). However, kinase inhibitors do not cure leukemia, and patients may need to continue taking the drugs to keep their CML under control.

Several kinase inhibitors are used to treat CML:

  • Dasatinib
  • Imatinib
  • Nilotinib.

Imatinib is the most commonly used of these drugs. Doctors may recommend leukemia treatment with dasatinib or nilotinib if a patient does not respond well to imatinib.

Side Effects of Kinase Inhibitors

Protein kinase inhibitors affect healthy cells less than broad-based chemotherapy drugs, but side effects are still possible. Mild side effects of this leukemia treatment may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • oint pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting.

Sometimes, protein kinase inhibitors produce serious side effects. Inform a medical professional right away if you experience any of the following side effects while taking kinase inhibitors for CML:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough with blood in the mucus
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Increased urination
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Puffiness under the eyes
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Signs of infection, such as a sore throat or fever
  • Skin rashes or blisters
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swelling of the extremities (ankles, feet, hands or lower legs)Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes.


American Cancer Society. (2010). Leukemia: Chronic myeloid (myelogenous) detailed guide. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/Leukemia-ChronicMyeloidCML/DetailedGuide/index.

Emory University. (2008). Kinase inhibitors. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from http://www.cancerquest.org/index.cfm?page=404.

Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (2008). Chronic leukemia. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec11/ch142/ch142c.html?qt=chronic leukemia