Imatinib has had marked impact on outcomes in chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) patients for all stages of the disease and is endorsed by international treatment guidelines as the first line option. Although imatinib is highly effective and well tolerated, the development of resistance represents a clinical challenge. Since the most frequently identified mechanism of acquired imatinib resistance is bcr-abl kinase domain point mutations, periodic hematologic, cytogenetic, and molecular monitoring is critical throughout imatinib therapy. Once cytogenetic remission is achieved, residual disease can be monitored by bcr-abl transcript levels as assayed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Detection of bcr-abl mutants prior to and during imatinib therapy can aid in risk stratification as well as in determining therapeutic strategies. Thus, mutation screening is indicated in patients lacking or losing hematologic response. Moreover, search for mutations should also be performed when a 3-log reduction of bcr-abl transcripts is not achieved or there is a reproducible increase of transcript levels. In patients harboring mutations which confer imatinib resistance, novel second line tyrosine kinase inhibitors have demonstrated encouraging efficacy with low toxicity. Only the T315I bcr-abl mutant has proved totally resistant to all clinically available bcr-abl inhibitors. Strategies to further increase the rates of complete molecular remissions represent the next frontier in the targeted therapy of CML patients.

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