Leukemia Treatment Kinase Inhibitors

Kinase inhibitors are a targeted chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. Rather than destroying any fast-growing cell, targeted medication attacks cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy cells. Protein kinase inhibitors are some of the most promising currently available targeted leukemia treatment options.

Advantages of Targeted Treatment for Leukemia

Chemotherapy is the primary leukemia treatment for most types of leukemia, but it comes with many possible unwanted side effects, including:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of infection.

Although the benefits of treatment are well worth the discomfort of side effects, there’s no denying that chemotherapy treatment can be grueling.

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
  • Intestinal tract.

The death of these cells — not the cancer itself — produces most of the side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Targeted chemotherapy uses medication designed to attack only cancer cells, thereby reducing damage to healthy cells. Targeted chemotherapy drugs, such as protein kinase inhibitors, may be used alone, or in combination with other treatment for leukemia.

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 and staurosporine interrupt cell division. Imatinib has proven very successful in the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), with five-year survival rates for CML patients treated with the kinase inhibitor exceeding 90 percent, according to Merck Pharmaceuticals.

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 treatment for leukemia may include:

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

In most cases, such side effects are either temporary or worth enduring for the benefits of kinase inhibitor leukemia treatment.

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

  • 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.

While protein kinase inhibitors for leukemia treatment are less likely to produce side effects than broad-based chemotherapy, the main goal is remission of the blood cancer. To increase the chance of successful treatment of leukemia, protein kinase inhibitors may be combined with chemotherapy.


Bruno, S.; Ardelt, B.; Skierski, J.; Traganos, F.; Darzynkiewicz, Z. (1992). Different effects of staurosoprine, an inhibitor of protein kinases, on the cell cycle and chromatin structure of normal and leukemic lymphocytes. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/52/2/470.

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

Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (2008). Chronic leukemia. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec11/ch142/ch142c.html?qt=chronic leukemia