CML Patients Treated with Gleevec Have Normal Life Expectancy

People with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) that is in complete remission after two years of treatment with Gleevec® (imatinib) have survival rates that are similar to those of the general population. These results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Each year in the United States, approximately 5,000 people are diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Most cases of CML are characterized by a chromosomal abnormality—the Philadelphia chromosome—in which genetic material is exchanged between chromosome 9 and chromosome 22. This exchange brings together two genes: BCR and ABL. The combination of these two genes into the single BCR-ABL gene results in the production of a protein that contributes to uncontrolled cell growth.

Recognition of the pivotal role of the BCR-ABL protein in CML led to the development of Gleevec® (imatinib), which blocks the activity of this protein. Gleevec was shown to produce high rates of remission among patients with CML and dramatically changed the treatment of this disease. Newer drugs that target the BCR-ABL protein include Tasigna® (nilotinib) and Sprycel® (dasatinib).

To explore the long-term outcomes of CML patients treated with Gleevec, researchers conducted a study among 832 patients in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The study was restricted to patients who were in complete remission after two years of treatment with Gleevec.

  • 4.8% of patients died during follow-up, which is similar to what would be expected in a comparable group in the general population. Of the 20 deaths that occurred, only six were due to CML.
  • Common side effects included muscle cramps, weakness, swelling, skin fragility, diarrhea, and tendon or ligament problems. These side effects can affect quality of life, and patients are encouraged to discuss side effects with their physician.

A statement released by the journal notes that this study “offers the first evidence that a disseminated cancer, not amenable to surgery, can be controlled to the point of giving patients a normal life expectancy.”

Reference: Gambacorti-Passerini C, Antolini L, Mahon F-X et al. Multicenter independent assessment of outcomes in chronic myeloid leukemia patients treated with imatinib. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Early online publication March 22, 2011.

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