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Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. The term chronic leukaemia is used to describe the type of cancer that progresses slowly over many years, people with chronic leukaemia often show few symptoms for many years. This means that the condition is often diagnosed coincidentally, during routine check-ups or blood tests for other issues.
Chronic leukaemia is further classified according to the type of white blood cells that are affected by cancer – chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) affects the myeloid cells, which perform a number of different functions, such as fighting bacterial infections, defending the body against parasites and preventing the spread of tissue damage
Chronic myeloid leukaemia is quite a rare type of cancer. Around 8,600 people are diagnosed with leukaemia every year in the UK, and it is more common in people aged 40-60.
What triggers the development of chronic leukaemia and causes the initial mutation in stem cells is unknown, although there are many suspected risk factors. There is some evidence to show an increased risk of chronic leukaemia in people who:
In its early stages, chronic myeloid leukaemia usually causes no noticeable symptoms and is often diagnosed during tests for a different condition. When symptoms do develop, they are similar to those of many other illnesses and can include:
CML can also cause swelling in your spleen (an organ that helps to filter impurities from your blood). This can cause a lump to appear on the left side of your abdomen, which may be painful when touched. A swollen spleen can also put pressure on your stomach, causing a lack of appetite and indigestion.
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you are referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you as to which tests are relevant, however most cases of chronic myeloid leukaemia are often first detected when a routine blood test is carried out to diagnose another, unrelated, condition. Once CML is suspected, tests include:
At CCL, patients with CML are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT, from our Haemato-Oncology department, headed by Professor Ray Powles, CBE. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Because CML is a chronic condition, the first treatment is usually medication to stop the progression of the cancer.
Imatinib tablets are usually given as soon as you have been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, to slow its progression. These tablets are taken every day for life, and most patients do really well on them.
The aim of treatment is to achieve the following:
If the leukaemia reaches an advanced stage, further treatment is considered, including:
We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible. Our support services include a specialist counselling, specialist physiotherapy, group sessions and much more. You can find the full range of our support services here.
We’ll be with you every step of the way.