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Moving treatment-free remission into mainstream clinical practice in CML

Timothy P. Hughes and David M. Ross

Abstract

The dramatic success of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) has led to the widespread perception that chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) has become another chronic disease, where lifelong commitment to pharmacological control is the paradigm. Recent trials demonstrate that some CML patients who have achieved stable deep molecular response can safely cease their therapy without relapsing (treatment free remission; TFR). Furthermore, those who are unsuccessful in their cessation attempt can safely re-establish remission after restarting their TKI therapy. Based on the accumulated data on TFR we propose that it is now time to change our approach for the many CML patients who have achieved a stable deep molecular response on long-term TKI therapy. Perhaps half of these patients could successfully achieve TFR if offered the opportunity. For many of these patients ongoing therapy is impairing quality of life and imposing a heavy financial burden while arguably achieving nothing. This recommendation is based on the evident safety of cessation attempts and TFR in the clinical trial setting. We acknowledge that there are potential risks associated with cessation attempts in wider clinical practice, but this should not deter us. Instead we need to establish criteria for safe and appropriate TKI cessation. Clinical trials will enable us to define the best strategies to achieve TFR, but clinicians need guidance today about how to approach this issue with their patients. We outline circumstances in which it would be in the patient's best interest to continue TKI, as well as criteria for a safe TFR attempt.

  • Submitted January 27, 2016.
  • Accepted March 22, 2016.