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Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) chemotherapy drugs and their side effects

Men and women discussing chronic myeloid leukaemia

This page tells you about the chemotherapy drugs doctors use to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia. There is information about


A quick guide to what's on this page

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) drugs and their side effects

The chemotherapy drug most commonly used for CML is hydroxycarbamide, which used to be called hydroxyurea. You take it as capsules each day. Another drug less often used is busulfan (Myleran, Busilvex). You also have this as capsules. You will have regular blood tests to check your levels of white cells, red cells and platelets.

Side effects

Chemotherapy drugs have different side effects. If you have hydroxycarbamide treatment the main side effects include

  • Low blood cell counts, an increased risk of infection, anaemia and bleeding or bruising
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Loss of fertility

If you have busulfan, the side effects are similar but may also include feeling sick, loss of appetite and a sore mouth.

High dose chemotherapy

Some people with blast phase CML may have high dose chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant. Various combinations of chemotherapy drugs may be used. The drugs and their side effects are discussed on the page about bone marrow and stem cell transplants for CML.


CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating CML section.



Your chemotherapy treatment

You usually have chemotherapy for CML as capsules that you take daily for as long as they are working. You will have regular blood tests to check your levels of blood cells. Your doctor may change the dose of the capsules depending on your blood test results. Or they may stop the treatment for a while if the number of white blood cells gets very low.


Chemotherapy drugs for CML

Hydroxycarbamide (Hydrea), which used to be called hydroxyurea, is the most commonly used chemotherapy drug for CML. You take it as capsules each day.  

Another drug used less often is called busulfan (Myleran, Busilvex). You also take busulfan as capsules.


CML chemotherapy side effects

For most people having chemotherapy for CML, the side effects are mild. You may have

The links above take you to more information about these side effects. If you are worried about not being able to have children after treatment, talk to your doctor. You may be able to store sperm or eggs before starting treatment. There is information about fertility and chemotherapy in the chemotherapy section

You should not become pregnant or father a child while having chemotherapy because the drugs can damage a developing baby.

If you are taking busulfan you may have the side effects above. You may also have

Talk to your doctor or nurse about any side effects that you have as they can give you medicines to help reduce them.


High dose chemotherapy

Some people have high dose chemotherapy for CML, followed by bone marrow or blood stem cells through a drip. You may hear this called a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant. A variety of different drugs and combinations of drugs can be used for this treatment. You can ask your doctor or clinical nurse specialist the names of the drugs that they will use for you.

High dose chemotherapy has more severe side effects than standard dose chemotherapy treatment. The doses given to you are high enough to kill your bone marrow cells, so you will have an increased risk of infection for some weeks after your treatment. You will be in hospital in a room of your own, to help protect you against infections. Sickness, diarrhoea, hair loss and a sore mouth can also be common side effects. There is information about bone marrow or stem cell transplants for CML in this section.

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Updated: 20 November 2014