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Chronic Leukaemia

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Chronic Leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the cells in your blood that fight diseases. 

This page gives you information about the treatment for this disease.

What we do

Methods used to diagnose chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) include:-

Chronic leukaemia symptoms

Your doctor (GP) will send you to hospital for further investigation if you have chronic leukaemia symptoms like:

  • tiredness, loss of appetite and weight loss
  • increased sweating
  • abnormal bruising and bleeding
  • night sweats
  • swelling in the spleen
  • repeated infections in a short space of time
  • pale skin bleeding like nose bleeds and bleeding gums
  • easily-bruised and itchy skin
  • swollen lymph nodes (glands)

Your GP will also take a blood test to see how many white blood cells are present. Too many white blood cells may indicate chronic leukaemia.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) treatment

For newly diagnosed CML, tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) are the mainstay of treatment. They specifically target the molecular abnormality in CML. Examples include Imatinib, Nilotinib and Dasatinib. They prevent CML from reaching the accelerated or acute (blast crisis) phase. Interferon alpha is hardly ever used.

Find out more about this on the CML support group website, which provide emotional understanding and updated information on treatment options. For late stage CML, chemotherapy is given.

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) treatment

Some patients may not need any treatment at all; simply monitoring with regular blood tests to check that it is stable. If your condition worsens you’ll get a course of chemotherapy. This will control the symptoms of CLL.

Chemotherapy (CML and CLL)

This is the use of drugs to kill leukaemia cells. It is given either as tablets to swallow, or can be injected directly into the vein as well. This treatment may be given on an outpatient basis meaning you don't have to stay overnight in hospital.

Bone marrow or stem cell transplant

Occasionally, a transplant is needed to give the best possible chance of curing chronic leukaemia. Before transplantation, you have aggressive high-dose chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy to destroy leukaemia cells. This puts massive strain on the body and causes significant side-effects and potential complications.Transplantations are more successful in younger people.

Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation is a possible alternative if you do not respond to treatment for chronic leukaemia. For some patients, a transplant may offer the best chance of cure.

We are the regional centre for bone marrow and stem cell transplants. We offer transplants to patients from Merseyside, Isle of Man, parts of Cheshire and North Wales.

Being referred to us

We will see you within two weeks of getting the doctor’s referral.

What happens when you see us

You'll see a doctor at the clinic who is an expert in treating blood conditions (haematologist). The haematologist might suggesta bone marrow biopsy, during which a small sample of your bone marrow is examined under a microscope. The biopsy is usually carried out under a local anaesthetic (meaning you don’t go to sleep).

The haematologist numbs an area of skin at the back of your hip bone and removes the bone marrow sample with a needle. The procedure is quick – taking 15 minutes – and usually painless. You may have bruising for a few days after.

The sample is checked for the presence of leukaemia cells. If they are present, the biopsy will be able to determine if it is CML or CLL.

It’s important to know the progress and extent of chronic leukaemia if it is detected. Therefore a number of additional tests may be used:

  • Cytogenetic and molecular testing: this identifies the genetic makeup of the leukaemia cells. This can have an important impact on treatment. Certain genetic types respond well to certain medicines.
  • Lymph node biopsy: further biopsies are carried out if you have any enlarged lymph nodes. This determines how far chronic lymphocytic leukaemia has spread.
  • CT Scans: in CLL, a computerised tomography (CT) scan may be used to check that your organs – such as your heart and lungs – are healthy.

What happens next

Test results are examined by the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) who are a group of doctors and health professionals that specialise in different aspects of treating leukaemia. They discuss your test results and decide on the best treatment plan. You are consulted fully so that you play a role in whatever treatment you receive.

Members of the team include:

  • several haemato-oncologists (specialists in the non-surgical treatment of leukaemia using medicines)
  • a pharmacist
  • a transplant specialist
  • specialist leukaemia nurses

Chronic leukaemia treatment usually begins a few days after diagnosis.The specialist nurse will be with you throughout your treatment journey. The nurse is available to answer any questions you or your family may have. The nurse also acts as the first point of contact between you the MDT.

More information

Clinical trials

You may be asked to take part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials help us learn more about the best way to treat specific conditions. Find out more here.

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