How does a TKI work?

A diagnosis of CML may feel daunting however, learning about your treatment and having the understanding and confidence to tell others about how it works can improve your treatment experience.1

Whether you have recently been diagnosed with CML or have been living with the condition for some time, you are likely to be prescribed a treatment called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). This is the main treatment for CML and can help keep the condition under control if taken correctly.2

CML affects your ability to produce healthy blood cells

To understand how TKIs work, it may first be helpful to understand what happens to your cells with CML.

People with CML produce too many white blood cells called granulocytes. These cells help your body to fight infection and disease.3

If CML is left untreated, more granulocytes that are not fully developed or functioning may accumulate. An accumulation of these abnormal granulocytes may eventually prevent your blood from producing healthy blood cells.3  

How TKIs work to control CML

TKIs block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases, which control how your granulocytes grow and multiply. If taken correctly, TKIs can prevent abnormal levels of these cells forming and multiplying.4

The diagram below helps explain what happens to your cells without treatment and after you take a TKI.

    1. Hibbard JH, Greene J (2013) ‘What the evidence shows about patient activation: better health outcomes and care experiences; fewer data on costs’. Health Aff (Milwood); 32(2): 207–214.
    1. NHS UK. Overview of chronic myeloid leukaemia. Available at April 2019.
    1. Leukaemia Care. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML): A guide for patients. Available at 2019.
    1. Leukaemia Care. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) –TKIs and TFR. Available at 2019.
  1. [CANUK]. Cancer Research UK. Cancer growth blockers. Available at April 2019.

    1. Boons CCLM et al (2018) ‘Needs for information and reasons for (non)adherence in chronic myeloid leukaemia: Be aware of social activities disturbing daily routines.’ Eur J Haematol; 101(5): 643–653.