Imatinib is the mainstay of treatment of patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in Tanzania. Monitoring molecular response to therapy by real-time polymerase chain reaction at defined milestones is necessary for early detection of treatment failure. However, this assay is not routinely performed in Tanzania; therefore, the depth of molecular response among patients with CML is not known. A total of 158 patients with previously diagnosed CML who received imatinib treatment were recruited from January 2019 and followed up through October 2020 at Ocean Road Cancer Institute. Information was obtained at the time of diagnosis and follow-up. Blood samples were collected in EDTA tubes to measure the BCR/ABL ratio on the Gene Xpert system for molecular response determination. The median age of the 158 adult patients was 45 years (range, 18-86). By reference to established treatment milestones, only 37 (23.4%) achieved optimal molecular response. Signs of advanced-stage disease, in particular the need for red cell transfusions before diagnosis (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 3.4; 95% CI, 1.32-9.17) and cytopenias (AOR, 2.26; 95% CI, 1.03-4.96) necessitating drug interruptions were statistically validated predictors of treatment failure on multivariate, multinomial logistic regression. Patient survival at the 22-month follow-up was lowest, with 78.6% (95% CI, 69.4-85.4) in the failure-to-respond category and highest in patients achieving optimal response 97.0% (95% CI, 80.9-99.6). In summary, the majority of patients with CML treated with imatinib in Tanzania do not obtain deep molecular response. This outcome can be attributed to late diagnosis, the development of cytopenias requiring multiple drug interruptions, and poor adherence to treatment.
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