Symptoms and diagnosis of CML

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Symptoms of CML 

CML develops very slowly so there may be no symptoms in the early stages. Possible symptoms include:

  • Tiredness and looking pale
  • Weight loss
  • Anaemia (fewer red blood cells)
  • Night sweats and fever
  • Swelling of your spleen and/or tenderness on the left side of your abdomen, caused by an enlarged spleen

All these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked out. 

Can I be screened for CML?

Testing for CML when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no leukaemia screening programme. This is because there have been no tests proven to help predict leukaemia. If you are worried about leukaemia, contact your family doctor (GP).

Diagnosing CML

Your family doctor (GP) will talk to you about your symptoms and arrange blood tests, if needed. If your blood test is abnormal you will be referred to hospital for more tests. For example:

  • Blood tests, such as a full blood count
  • Lumbar puncture: Taking a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord using a needle in your lower back. The fluid will be checked for cancer cells. 
  • Bone marrow biopsy: Taking a sample of your bone marrow (and maybe bone). The sample is taken from the inside of your bone, usually the hipbone.  The sample is examined under a microscope to see the number and type of cells in it. You may have this test to diagnose CML and also to see how you are responding to treatment.

Bone marrow biopsy 

Taking a sample of your bone marrow (and maybe bone). The sample is taken from the inside of your bone, usually the hipbone. 

The sample is examined under a microscope to see the number and type of cells in it. You may have this test to diagnose CML and also to see how you are responding to treatment.

Tests on blood and bone marrow

Chromosome studies (cytogenetics)

Tests on blood or bone marrow samples that look for genetic changes in your cells. For example, sometimes with CML part of one chromosome is moved to another chromosome and a new one formed. This is called the Philadelphia chromosome and there are special treatments to target this. 

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test

This is a very sensitive blood test that detects the amount of the abnormal BCR-ABL1 fusion gene in your blood.  The BCR-ABL1 gene is produced because of the abnormal Philadelphia chromosome.

Immunophenotyping

Checking for proteins or markers on the surface of the leukaemia cells to give more information about your type of CML. 

You may need other tests, such as a chest x-ray, CT scan or ultrasound scan.

A haematologist is a doctor who specialises in treating blood and bone marrow problems.

For more information

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