Survival rates for people in England diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) have risen by nearly half, largely due to the use of tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) drugs, a new survey shows.

Around 58% of people are now surviving their disease for at leave five years, compared with only around 40% in the late 1990s, says the report, from the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN).

In the first national study in England to look at survival for different types of leukaemia, the Northern and Yorkshire Cancer Registry and Information Service (NYCRIS) - which carried out the work on behalf of the NCIN Haematology Site Specific Reference Group (SSCRG) - found that for patients diagnosed with CML, the chance of surviving the disease for at least five years after diagnosis rose from 41% to 57% of men and from 38% to 59% of women between the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

"It's really exciting to see the enormous difference new drugs can make in treating cancer. And, as this new data shows, TKIs can be considered a revolutionary treatment for [CML]," said Dr Robin Ireland, chair of the SSCRG at the NCIN. 

The first TKI, Novartis' Glivec (imatinib), was licensed in 2001.

"Basic research has given us a greater biological understanding of cancer tumours, which has led to the development of successful targeted cancer drugs that are now the first-line treatment for CML," said Dr Ireland.

"TKIs target cancer cells by blocking the molecules they make, which stops them from multiplying. These drugs have completely changed the outlook for patients with this disease and it’s the first example of our improved understanding of cell molecular biology leading to the design of a specific inhibitor of the disease," he added.

The report shows that, while the number of people developing CML hasn't changed much since 2001, survival from the disease has greatly improved, said Dr Steven Oliver, haematological cancer epidemiology lead at NYCRIS and lead author of the report.

"What's even more promising is that, in the last four years, second and third generations of these drugs have been developed. We believe more and more CML patients have been receiving TKIs and we'd predict that the improvements in survival should be even greater in the future," added Dr Oliver.

"Being able to link data on the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes for cancer patients allows us to identify where improved cancer care is having an effect on people's lives," said NCIN head Chris Carrigan. "The improvements in survival demonstrated here highlight the difference that effective treatments can make."

- CML is a relatively rare form of leukaemia that mostly affects older people. There were 710 cases registered in the UK, according to the Cancer Research UK Statistical Information Team. Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends standard-dose imatinib as the first-line treatment for CML.