Clinical Review

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Review of TKI Therapy

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Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a myeloproliferative neoplasm that arises from a reciprocal translocation between the Abelson (ABL) region on chromosome 9 and the breakpoint cluster region (BCR) of chromosome 22, t(9;22)(q34;q11.2) (the Philadelphia chromosome), resulting in the generation of the BCR-ABL1 fusion gene and its protein product, BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase. BCR-ABL is a constitutively active fusion kinase that confers proliferative and survival advantage to hematopoietic cells through activation of downstream pathways.

CML is divided into 3 phases based on the number of myeloblasts observed in the blood or bone marrow: chronic, accelerated, and blast. Most cases of CML are diagnosed in the chronic phase (CP), which is marked by proliferation of primarily the myeloid element.

The advent of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), a class of small molecules targeting the tyrosine kinases, particularly the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase, led to rapid changes in the management of CML and improved survival for patients. Patients diagnosed with CP-CML now a have life-expectancy that is similar to that of the general population, as long as they receive the appropriate TKI therapy and adhere to treatment. As such, it is crucial to identify patients with CML, ensure they receive a complete, appropriate diagnostic work-up, and select the best therapy for each individual patient. The diagnosis and work-up of CML are reviewed in a separate article; here, the selection of TKI therapy for a patient with newly diagnosed CP-CML is reviewed.


A 53-year-old woman who recently was diagnosed with CML presents to review her treatment options. The diagnosis was made after she presented to her primary care physician with fatigue, early satiety, left upper quadrant abdominal pain, and an 8-lb unintentional weight loss over the prior month. On physical exam her spleen was palpated 8 cm below the left costal margin. Laboratory evaluation showed a total white blood cell (WBC) count of 124,000/μL with a left-shifted differential including 6% basophils, 3% eosinophils, and 3% blasts; hemoglobin and platelet count were 12.4 g/dL and 801 × 103/µL, respectively. Fluorescent in-situ hybridization for BCR-ABL gene rearrangement using peripheral blood was positive in 87% of cells. Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration showed a 95% cellular bone marrow with granulocytic hyperplasia and 1% blasts. Cytogenetics were 46,XX,t(9;22)(q34;q11.2), and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RQ-PCR) to measure BCR-ABL1 transcripts in the peripheral blood showed a value of 98% international standard (IS). Her Sokal risk score was 1.42 (high risk). In addition, prior review of her past medical history revealed uncontrolled diabetes, coronary artery disease requiring placement of 3 cardiac stents 2 years prior, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) related to a 30-pack-year history of smoking.

  • What factors must be considered when selecting first-line therapy for this patient?

Selection of the most appropriate first-line TKI for newly diagnosed CP-CML patients requires incorporation of many patient-specific factors. These factors include baseline karyotype and confirmation of CP-CML through bone marrow biopsy, Sokal or EURO risk score, and a thorough patient history, including a clear understanding of the patient's comorbidities. In this case, the patient's high Sokal risk score along with her history of diabetes, coronary artery disease, and COPD are all factors that must be accounted for when choosing the most appropriate TKI. The adverse effect profile of all TKIs must be considered in conjunction with the patient's ongoing medical issues in order to decrease the likelihood of worsening her current symptoms or causing a severe complication from TKI therapy.


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