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Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)

Relapsing CML

Overt failure is defined as a loss of hematologic remission or progression to accelerated-phase or blast-crisis phase chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) as previously defined. A consistently rising quantitative reverse–transcription polymerase chain reaction BCR/ABL level suggests relapsing disease. For initial use of imatinib mesylate, the designation of relative failure or suboptimal response has been proposed for lack of complete hematologic remission by 3 months, no cytogenetic response by 6 months, or no major cytogenetic response by 12 months.[1,2] Nilotinib and dasatinib induce such high rates of complete cytogenetic responses and major molecular responses within several months that new benchmarks are required for responsiveness.[3] These investigators propose that a complete cytogenetic response by 3 months should define an optimal response.[4]

In case of treatment failure or suboptimal response, patients should undergo BCR/ABL kinase domain mutation analysis to help guide therapy with the newer tyrosine kinase inhibitors or with allogeneic transplantation.[5,6] Mutations in the tyrosine kinase domain can confer resistance to imatinib mesylate; alternative inhibitors such as dasatinib, nilotinib, or bosutinib, higher doses of imatinib mesylate, and allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT) have been studied in this setting.[7-19] In particular, the T315I mutation marks resistance to imatinib, dasatinib, nilotinib, and bosutinib. In a phase II study with 449 patients, 60% of the 129 patients with the T315I mutation had a molecular response to ponatinib, an oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor.[20][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Ponatinib also has activity in heavily pretreated-resistant CML and in a third of the patients with accelerated-phase or blast-crisis phase CML.[20]

For patients resistant to several tyrosine kinase inhibitors, omacetaxine mepesuccinate (a cephalotaxine, formerly known as homoharringtonine, with activity independent of BCR/ABL) has shown a hematologic response rate of 67% and a median progression-free survival of 7 months in a small, phase II study of 46 patients.[21][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Infusions of buffy-coat leukocytes or isolated T cells obtained by pheresis from the bone marrow transplant donor have induced long-term remissions in more than 50% of patients who relapse following allogeneic transplant.[22,23] The efficacy of this treatment is thought to be the result of an immunologic graft-versus-leukemia effect. This treatment is most effective for patients whose relapse is detectable only by cytogenetics or molecular studies and is associated with significant graft-versus-host disease. After relapse from allogeneic SCT, some patients will also respond to interferon alpha.[24] Most patients will respond to imatinib mesylate with durable (>1 year) cytogenetic and molecular responses. (These patients had not previously received imatinib.)[25-27]

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with relapsing chronic myelogenous leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Baccarani M, Saglio G, Goldman J, et al.: Evolving concepts in the management of chronic myeloid leukemia: recommendations from an expert panel on behalf of the European LeukemiaNet. Blood 108 (6): 1809-20, 2006. [PUBMED Abstract]
  2. Marin D, Milojkovic D, Olavarria E, et al.: European LeukemiaNet criteria for failure or suboptimal response reliably identify patients with CML in early chronic phase treated with imatinib whose eventual outcome is poor. Blood 112 (12): 4437-44, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  3. Jabbour E, Kantarjian HM, O'Brien S, et al.: Front-line therapy with second-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors in patients with early chronic phase chronic myeloid leukemia: what is the optimal response? J Clin Oncol 29 (32): 4260-5, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  4. Jain P, Kantarjian H, Nazha A, et al.: Early responses predict better outcomes in patients with newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia: results with four tyrosine kinase inhibitor modalities. Blood 121 (24): 4867-74, 2013. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Soverini S, Hochhaus A, Nicolini FE, et al.: BCR-ABL kinase domain mutation analysis in chronic myeloid leukemia patients treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors: recommendations from an expert panel on behalf of European LeukemiaNet. Blood 118 (5): 1208-15, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Parker WT, Lawrence RM, Ho M, et al.: Sensitive detection of BCR-ABL1 mutations in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia after imatinib resistance is predictive of outcome during subsequent therapy. J Clin Oncol 29 (32): 4250-9, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  7. Jabbour E, Cortes J, Kantarjian HM, et al.: Allogeneic stem cell transplantation for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia and acute lymphocytic leukemia after Bcr-Abl kinase mutation-related imatinib failure. Blood 108 (4): 1421-3, 2006. [PUBMED Abstract]
  8. le Coutre PD, Giles FJ, Hochhaus A, et al.: Nilotinib in patients with Ph+ chronic myeloid leukemia in accelerated phase following imatinib resistance or intolerance: 24-month follow-up results. Leukemia 26 (6): 1189-94, 2012. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Hochhaus A, Baccarani M, Deininger M, et al.: Dasatinib induces durable cytogenetic responses in patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia in chronic phase with resistance or intolerance to imatinib. Leukemia 22 (6): 1200-6, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  10. Guilhot F, Apperley J, Kim DW, et al.: Dasatinib induces significant hematologic and cytogenetic responses in patients with imatinib-resistant or -intolerant chronic myeloid leukemia in accelerated phase. Blood 109 (10): 4143-50, 2007. [PUBMED Abstract]
  11. Kantarjian HM, Giles FJ, Bhalla KN, et al.: Nilotinib is effective in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia in chronic phase after imatinib resistance or intolerance: 24-month follow-up results. Blood 117 (4): 1141-5, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  12. Kantarjian H, Cortes J, Kim DW, et al.: Phase 3 study of dasatinib 140 mg once daily versus 70 mg twice daily in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia in accelerated phase resistant or intolerant to imatinib: 15-month median follow-up. Blood 113 (25): 6322-9, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  13. Jabbour E, Jones D, Kantarjian HM, et al.: Long-term outcome of patients with chronic myeloid leukemia treated with second-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors after imatinib failure is predicted by the in vitro sensitivity of BCR-ABL kinase domain mutations. Blood 114 (10): 2037-43, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  14. Apperley JF, Cortes JE, Kim DW, et al.: Dasatinib in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia in accelerated phase after imatinib failure: the START a trial. J Clin Oncol 27 (21): 3472-9, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  15. Hughes T, Saglio G, Branford S, et al.: Impact of baseline BCR-ABL mutations on response to nilotinib in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia in chronic phase. J Clin Oncol 27 (25): 4204-10, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  16. Kantarjian H, Pasquini R, Lévy V, et al.: Dasatinib or high-dose imatinib for chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia resistant to imatinib at a dose of 400 to 600 milligrams daily: two-year follow-up of a randomized phase 2 study (START-R). Cancer 115 (18): 4136-47, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  17. Saglio G, Hochhaus A, Goh YT, et al.: Dasatinib in imatinib-resistant or imatinib-intolerant chronic myeloid leukemia in blast phase after 2 years of follow-up in a phase 3 study: efficacy and tolerability of 140 milligrams once daily and 70 milligrams twice daily. Cancer 116 (16): 3852-61, 2010. [PUBMED Abstract]
  18. Cortes JE, Kantarjian HM, Brümmendorf TH, et al.: Safety and efficacy of bosutinib (SKI-606) in chronic phase Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia patients with resistance or intolerance to imatinib. Blood 118 (17): 4567-76, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  19. Khoury HJ, Cortes JE, Kantarjian HM, et al.: Bosutinib is active in chronic phase chronic myeloid leukemia after imatinib and dasatinib and/or nilotinib therapy failure. Blood 119 (15): 3403-12, 2012. [PUBMED Abstract]
  20. Cortes JE, Kim DW, Pinilla-Ibarz J, et al.: A phase 2 trial of ponatinib in Philadelphia chromosome-positive leukemias. N Engl J Med 369 (19): 1783-96, 2013. [PUBMED Abstract]
  21. Cortes J, Digumarti R, Parikh PM, et al.: Phase 2 study of subcutaneous omacetaxine mepesuccinate for chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia patients resistant to or intolerant of tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Am J Hematol 88 (5): 350-4, 2013. [PUBMED Abstract]
  22. Kaeda J, O'Shea D, Szydlo RM, et al.: Serial measurement of BCR-ABL transcripts in the peripheral blood after allogeneic stem cell transplantation for chronic myeloid leukemia: an attempt to define patients who may not require further therapy. Blood 107 (10): 4171-6, 2006. [PUBMED Abstract]
  23. Dazzi F, Szydlo RM, Craddock C, et al.: Comparison of single-dose and escalating-dose regimens of donor lymphocyte infusion for relapse after allografting for chronic myeloid leukemia. Blood 95 (1): 67-71, 2000. [PUBMED Abstract]
  24. Pigneux A, Devergie A, Pochitaloff M, et al.: Recombinant alpha-interferon as treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia in relapse after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation: a report from the Société Française de Greffe de Moelle. Bone Marrow Transplant 15 (6): 819-24, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
  25. Olavarria E, Ottmann OG, Deininger M, et al.: Response to imatinib in patients who relapse after allogeneic stem cell transplantation for chronic myeloid leukemia. Leukemia 17 (9): 1707-12, 2003. [PUBMED Abstract]
  26. Kantarjian HM, O'Brien S, Cortes JE, et al.: Imatinib mesylate therapy for relapse after allogeneic stem cell transplantation for chronic myelogenous leukemia. Blood 100 (5): 1590-5, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  27. Hess G, Bunjes D, Siegert W, et al.: Sustained complete molecular remissions after treatment with imatinib-mesylate in patients with failure after allogeneic stem cell transplantation for chronic myelogenous leukemia: results of a prospective phase II open-label multicenter study. J Clin Oncol 23 (30): 7583-93, 2005. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: April 2, 2015