Symptoms and diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

The most common symptoms of CML include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anaemia (fewer red blood cells)
  • Night sweats and fever
  • Abnormal or unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Bone pain
  • Headaches and visual disturbances
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tenderness on the left side of your abdomen, due to an enlarged spleen
  • Swelling of your spleen

If CML is developing, other symptoms may include increased number of infections, swollen lymph nodes, nodules and itchy skin. Even though the above symptoms can be caused by conditions other than leukaemia, do have them checked by your family doctor (GP).

Screening

Testing for cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national leukaemia screening programme in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. If you are worried about leukaemia, contact the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700 or speak to your GP.

Diagnosis

Visit your family doctor (GP) first if you are worried about any symptoms. He or she will examine you and arrange blood tests if needed. If your blood test is abnormal, you will be referred to a specialist called a haematologist, who treats abnormal changes to blood and bone marrow. At the hospital, some of the following tests may be done to diagnose CML:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests, such as a full blood count
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Chromosome studies (cytogenetics)

Bone Marrow biopsy: In this test a tiny sample of your bone or bone marrow is looked at under a microscope. If a sample of bone marrow cells is taken, it is called an aspirate. If solid bone is taken, it is a trephine biopsy. Usually the sample is taken from your hipbone or sometimes your breastbone. Before the test you will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area. A needle is then passed gently through your skin into your bone marrow. A tiny sample of the bone marrow is next drawn off using a syringe. These cells will then be looked at under a microscope in the laboratory. The test takes about 15 minutes and you will feel a little discomfort for a short while afterwards.

Chromosome studies: Special tests can also be done on blood or bone marrow samples. For example, the number and shape of chromosomes in your blood cells can be examined and compared to normal cells. This includes the Philadelphia chromosome. About 95 out of every 100 people with CML have this abnormal chromosome. It is caused by some of the DNA from one chromosome (no. 9) moving over to another chromosome (no. 22). This is called a translocation and is a known type of genetic abnormality.

Other tests

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-Ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

The above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm