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Cancer Care

Biologic Therapy for CML

Biologic Therapy for CML

Biologic treatment is also called immunotherapy. It uses substances made in a lab. These substances act like the ones your immune system makes. Because targeted therapy with drugs, such as Gleevec (imatinib), works so well for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), immunotherapy with agents, such as interferon, is no longer recommended as the first treatment choice. 

However, your CML is in the chronic phase and is not responding to targeted drugs, your doctor may recommend interferon therapy with Roferon or Intron (interferon alpha). This drug may get rid of the leukemia cells. The goal is to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible.

Very few people whose leukemia is in the accelerated phase respond. And the remissions brought on by interferon therapy don’t last as long as for those in the chronic phase. Remission is when there is no longer a sign of the disease.

What happens during biologic therapy for CML

If you take interferon therapy, you may need it for a long time. It's common to take it for several years, as long as it is working and the side effects aren't too severe. You'll most likely get a daily injection under your skin. You can get this as an outpatient at a hospital, clinic, or doctor's office, or you may learn how to give it to yourself. 

What to expect after biologic therapy for CML

Some people may need to quit biologic treatment early because of side effects. However, with proper management, most people can tolerate this treatment. Side effects usually go away shortly after treatment ends.

Here are possible side effects of interferon therapy:

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle aches

  • Bone pain

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Problems with thinking and concentration

  • Headaches

  • Low blood cell counts

Ask your doctor or nurse for help on how to ease these side effects. Sometimes the doctor may be able to ease them by changing your dose of interferon. 

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