Chronic Myeloid Leukemia - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Diseases / Research

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Chronic Myleoid Leukemia

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia is marked by the presence of unhealthy, abnormal white blood cells (stained purple).

Photo by Fred Hutch

Fred Hutch researchers are studying how to prevent and treat chronic myeloid leukemia, and investigating how treatment affects on CML survivors.

Our scientists helped develop Gleevec®, known as the “leukemia pill”, and spearheaded a critical test to monitoring whether a patient's cancer relapses.


Fast Facts

  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)—also known as chronic granulocytic, chronic myelocytic or chronic myelogenous leukemia—is a rare type of blood cancer that typically grows worse slowly.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia originates from a genetic abnormality in blood cells called the Philadelphia chromosome.
  • In a healthy person, bone marrow makes the blood stem cells that mature into infection-fighting white blood cells, oxygen-carrying red blood cells and blood-clotting platelets. When a person has CML, too many blood stem cells develop into a type of white blood cell called granulocytes, which are abnormal and never become healthy white blood cells.
  • In the first stages of CML, known as the chronic phase, patients show few signs of illness. In the end, however, millions of abnormal, useless white blood cells accumulate, preventing production of normal blood cells and blood-clotting platelets. Patients suffer from infections, anemia, uncontrolled bleeding and other complications that lead to death.
  • CML usually occurs during or after middle age and rarely develops in children. Bone-marrow or stem-cell transplantation is the disease's only known cure.

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Detection & Diagnosis

Developing new ways to monitor CML – Dr. Jerry Radich, Hutch colleagues and an international research group developed a test that is sensitive enough to detect one blood cancer cell among a million normal cells. Used to monitor CML patients who received a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, this test enables doctors to respond quickly at the first sign of relapse. The hope is that these ultra-sensitive tests might be able to determine which CML patients can actually discontinue medication without fear of relapse. Learn more >

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Treatment & Prognosis

Pioneering bone marrow transplantation – Led by Nobel Prize recipient Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, Fred Hutch researchers have transformed bone marrow transplantation into standard treatment for CML and other blood cancers. The procedure, as well as its sister treatment stem cell transplantation, is one of cancer treatment's greatest success stories. Bone marrow transplantation has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Learn more >

Developing and improving drug treatments – Fred Hutch participated in clinical trials that led to the FDA approval of the "leukemia pill," Gleevec®.  Hutch investigators continue studying Gleevec to determine which CML patients are best treated with the drug and which treatments may work well in conjunction with the drug. In addition, the center contributed to the FDA approval of "second generation" tyrosine kinase inhibitors known as nilotinib and dasatinib. Learn more >

Using the immune system to fight cancer –  Dr. Stanley Riddell and colleagues are investigating use of a treatment technique for leukemia called immunotherapy—harnessing the body's own infection-fighting T-cells against the disease. The approach holds promise for treating several types of cancer, including chemotherapy-resistant ALL in children. Learn more >

Predicting leukemia treatment response - Dr. Jerry Radich, a molecular biologist in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch, is working to improve the odds. His research is helping doctors decide what therapy is likely to produce a lasting response and determine early on whether a patient in remission is likely to relapse so they can intervene sooner rather than later. Learn more >

Fred Hutch’s Dr. Stan Riddell and colleagues are making significant strides in this exciting field, and continue to refine ways to use the human immune system to overcome cancer and other diseases.

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Improving Survival

Investigating post-transplant survival - Our research shows that CML patients who received a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor with matching tissue could expect about the same five-year survival rate as patients with matched related donors.

Understanding how treatment affects survivors – Research by Dr. Karen Syrjala shows that the decline in mental skills experienced by many bone marrow- and stem cell transplant patients is largely temporary. Patients who experience these symptoms can expect a return to normal cognitive function within a year of their transplant, and their mental conditions will continue improving. Learn more >

Studying survivors' long-term health – A study by Dr. Syrjala shows that, after 10 years, patients who received stem cell transplants for blood cancers are nearly as healthy as people who didn’t. Both populations had similar rates of asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and osteoporosis. In addition, they also had similar psychological health, marital satisfaction and employment. Learn more >

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