Gleevec is approved to treat certain cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract, skin, blood, and bone marrow. It can be given to children as young as one year old; however, this may have an adverse effect on the child's growth. In some cases, a healthcare provider will recommend a person use Gleevec "off-label" for liver cancer, uterine cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Gleevec® (imatinib mesylate) is a prescription medication approved to treat people who have certain types of cancers of the blood, bone marrow, skin, and digestive tract. It belongs to a group of chemotherapy medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. The specific types of cancer Gleevec is approved to treat include:
- Leukemia and related cancers of the blood and bone marrow
- A rare type of skin cancer known as dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
- A rare type of gastrointestinal cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST).
Leukemia is a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. The bone marrow normally produces blood cells in amounts the body needs. However, in leukemia, the bone marrow produces a large amount of abnormal blood cells that grow out of control and eventually crowd out the normal, healthy blood cells.
There are different types of leukemia. The types are generally named for how quickly the disease develops and gets worse (chronic versus acute) and which blood cells are affected (lymphoid versus myeloid). Treatment will vary based on the type of leukemia a person has.
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
One type of leukemia is called chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). CML is a slowly progressing disease in which bone marrow stem cells (the early cells that form blood cells) develop into many abnormal granulocytes (a type of white blood cell). Some of these cells never become mature white blood cells; these are called blasts. Over time, the granulocytes and blasts crowd out the red blood cells and platelets in the bone marrow.
CML mostly affects adults, although children can be diagnosed with it as well. People with CML have an abnormal chromosome called the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph chromosome).