Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) treatment can sometimes produce side effects. Most patients can manage their side effects without stopping therapy.
Before you start treatment, talk with your doctor about potential side effects. Drugs and other therapies can prevent or manage many side effects. Many treatment side effects go away or become less noticeable over time.
Side Effects of CML Drug Therapy
Click here to look up side effects of specific drugs.
Patients with a history of cardiac disease need to be monitored carefully and frequently. It is unusual, but some patients who were treated with Gleevec, Sprycel and/or Tasigna have developed serious side effects such as
- Severe congestive heart failure (a weakness of the heart that leads to a buildup of fluid in the lungs and surrounding body tissues)
- Left ventricular dysfunction (difficulty emptying blood from the left lower chamber of the heart).
A recent trial studying the potential long-term effects among a large group of CML patients who were on Gleevec therapy indicated that many of the patients who developed adverse cardiac effects also had other health problems and risk factors, including older age and a medical history of cardiac disease or they had received prior treatment with cardiotoxic drugs.
A possible side effect of Tasigna, a drug that needs to be regularly monitored, is a potential heart rhythm called "QT prolongation." This condition causes an irregular heartbeat and may be life threatening. Gleevec and Sprycel may occasionally cause QT prolongation in a small number of individuals. Some other medications are also known to cause QT prolongation, and should be avoided whenever possible. Your doctor will give you a list of medications to avoid, and will monitor you for these conditions, as needed, before and during treatment. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is recommended for patients taking QT interval-prolonging medication.
Other Side Effects
Drugs such as interferon and the oral medication hydroxyurea (Hydrea®) are sometimes used when patients react poorly to TKIs. They can have severe side effects, especially in older patients. Side effects, most of which improve after you stop using the drugs, include:
- Flulike symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and weakness
- Prolonged fatigue
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Sores in the mouth
- Irregular heartbeat
Side Effects of Graft-Versus-Host Disease
If you undergo allogeneic stem cell transplantation, you're at high risk of developing graft versus host disease (GVHD). The older you are, the higher your risk for GVHD. GVHD develops when the donor's immune cells mistakenly attack the patient's normal cells. GVHD can be mild, moderate or severe - even life threatening.
Long-Term and Late Effects of Treatment
For some patients, side effects may last well after they finish treatment. To read more about lingering side effects, see The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free publication, Long-Term and Late Effects of Treatment in Adults.
- Managing Side Effects
- Integrative Medicine and Complementary and Alternative Therapies
- Download lists of suggested questions to ask your doctor
- FDA drug information webpage
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free booklet, Understanding Side Effects of Drug Therapy