What Is Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia (CMML)?

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Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) is a rare type of cancer that begins in the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. It is one of several blood cancers that causes abnormally high monocytes, a type of white blood cell.

Symptoms of CMML include abdominal pain and feeling full faster than normal. In most cases. the cause of CMML is unknown, although it sometimes develops after cancer treatment.

The only cure for CMML is a stem cell transplant, but it also can be treated with certain medications or chemotherapy.

This article will look at the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for CMML.

Caring male doctor touching shoulder of female patient with CMML in clinic examination room
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Symptoms of CMML

The telltale sign of CMML is excess monocyte white blood cells, which can be seen on a blood test. Those extra monocytes can cause an enlarged spleen and liver, which can cause symptoms like:

  • Pain in upper left (spleen) or upper right (liver) of abdomen
  • Feeling full too quickly while eating

An excess of monocytes can crowd out other blood cells, including red blood cells, normal white blood cells, and blood platelets, causing symptoms such as:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Abnormal bleeding or bruising
  • Frequent or severe nosebleeds

Other symptoms of CMML include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

A normal monocyte count is 200-800 per cubic millimeter (cu Mm) in 4% to 8% of white blood cells. An absolute monocyte count of more than 1,000 per cu Mm, with monocytes accounting for more than 10% of white blood cells and persisting for longer than three months may indicate CMML.


In most cases of CMML, the cause is unknown. CMML may occur after cancer treatment with chemotherapy drugs. Radiation and cancer-causing chemicals may also cause DNA mutations that can lead to CMML.

CMML affects around four of every 1 million people in the United States. every year and is usually diagnosed in those 60 and older.


In order to confirm a CMML diagnosis, your healthcare provider will need to do blood and bone marrow tests.

The blood test will include a complete blood count (CBC). This measures the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your body. It may also include a differential count, which measures the different kinds of white blood cells. A common sign of CMML is a high number of monocytes, greater than 1,000 per microliter.

Other signs include low numbers of other white blood cells, red blood cells, and blood platelets. Blood cells also can be examined under a microscope to look for differences in size and shape.

In addition, blood tests may be done to check for low vitamin B12 and folate levels, which can cause low blood counts, and infections, which can cause an elevation in white blood cells.

When abnormalities in the blood suggest CMML, a bone marrow biopsy will be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. This entails taking a sample of bone marrow, usually from the back of the hip bone, to be examined under a microscope to determine the types and number of blood-forming cells there, as well as to look for signs of infection or cancer cells.

A pathologist will also measure the percentage of immature marrow cells, called blasts, in the sample. A diagnosis of CMML is made when there are fewer than 20% blasts in the bone marrow. (A percentage of 20 or more blasts is diagnosed as acute leukemia.) Cytogenetic tests may also be done to look for abnormalities in the DNA of bone marrow cell.

Other Diagnostic Tests

Your doctor may order one or more tests such as those below to diagnose CMML:

  • X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans detect an enlarged spleen or liver.
  • Blood and urine tests detect high levels of lysozyme, an enzyme found in saliva, tears and some immune cells like monocytes.
  • Additional blood work looks for high levels of proteins called lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and beta 2-microglobulin, which can indicate tissue damage and increased white cell production or destruction caused by inflammation or certain types of cancer.


A stem cell transplant from a matched donor is the only potential cure for CMML. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your eligibility for this procedure.

Chemotherapy also is an option for treating CMML. While it can’t cure CMML, it can help kill abnormal bone marrow cells. Your healthcare provider may suggest the chemotherapy drug Hydrea (hydroxyurea) to help reduce the number of white blood cells and monocytes.

Hypomethylating agents like Dacogen (decitabine) may also keep abnormal cells in the bone marrow from making new cells. A 2017 study found that hypomethylating agents may improve a patient's prognosis.

You may benefit from supportive therapy to help prevent symptoms and problems. For example, if you’re dealing with anemia (low red blood cell counts), a blood transfusion or Procrit (erythropoietin) may help you feel better. Bleeding problems may be treated with platelet transfusions. If you have an infection, antibiotics can help clear it up.


CMML is a rare form of leukemia characterized by high levels of monocytes in the blood. The main symptoms are abdominal pain and feeling full too soon while eating. It is not clear what causes CMML but it can occur after treatments for other cancers. The only cure for CMML is a stem cell transplant.

A Word From Verywell

The uncertainty of a CMML diagnosis may make you feel anxious or stressed. An open conversation with your healthcare provider will help you understand your individual prognosis and treatment options. You also may find it helpful to work with a therapist or join a support group in order to deal with the mental and emotional stress of having a CMML. 

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia.

  2. National Cancer Institute. SEER training modules. Normal blood values.

  3. Mangaonkar AA, Tande AJ, Bekele DI. Differential diagnosis and workup of monocytosis: A systematic approach to a common hematologic findingCurr Hematol Malig Rep. 2021;16(3):267-275. doi:10.1007/s11899-021-00618-4

  4. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. CMML. Diagnosis.

  5. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. CMML. Stem cell transplantation.

  6. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. CMML. Chemotherapy and drug therapy.

  7. Zeidan AM, Hu X, Long JB, et al. Hypomethylating agent therapy use and survival in older patients with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia in the United States: A large population-based study. Cancer. 2017;123(19):3754-3762. doi:10.1002/cncr.30814

Additional Reading

By Tom Iarocci, MD
Tom Iarocci, MD, is a medical writer with clinical and research experience in hematology and oncology.