Leukemia Center

Leukemia Treatment

Leukemia treatment
Unlike other types of cancer, leukemia isn't a solid tumor that your doctor can surgically remove. People diagnosed with leukemia have many treatment options. For this reason, leukemia treatment is complex and depends on many factors. Sometimes a combination of these treatments is used. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the following:

  • Age 
  • Certain features of the leukemia cells
  • General health
  • Presence of leukemia cells found in your cerebrospinal fluid
  • Symptoms
  • Type of leukemia (acute or chronic) 

Your doctor can describe treatment choices, the expected results, and the possible side effects. Your doctor may refer also you to a specialist who will supervise treatment. Specialists who treat leukemia pr who may make up a part of your treatment team include:

  • Hematologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Oncology nurse
  • Pediatric oncologist
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Registered dietician

Acute leukemia treatment
People with acute leukemia need to be treated right away. The goal of treatment is to destroy signs of leukemia in the body and make symptoms go away. This is called a remission. After people go into remission, more therapy may be given to prevent a relapse. This type of therapy is called consolidation therapy or maintenance therapy.

Biological therapy
Also known as immunotherapy, biological therapy uses substances that bolster your immune system's response to cancer.

Chemotherapy is the major form of treatment for leukemia. This treatment uses chemical agents to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia diagnosed, doctors order a single drug or a combination of one or more drugs. These drugs may come in a pill form, or they may be injected directly into a vein. Intensive leukemia chemotherapy has certain side effects, including hair loss, nausea and vomiting in the short term, and potential health problems down the line.

In the last decade, several very important new drugs and new uses for existing drugs have greatly improved cure rates or remission duration for some patients with leukemia.

Kinase Inhibitors - These are the drug of choice in newly diagnosed patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), which by blocking the oncogene-encoded protein product that instigates the transformation to a leukemic cell.

Pentostatin and cladribine - The treatment of hairy cell leukemia, a less common type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), has improved dramatically with the introduction of these two very useful agents

Other drugs - Arsenic trioxide and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) are anti-cancer drugs that doctors can use alone or in combination with chemotherapy to treat a certain subtype of AML called promyelocytic leukemia. These drugs cause leukemia cells with a specific gene mutation to mature and die.

Radiation therapy
Radiation treatment use X-rays or other high-energy rays to shrink tumors and keep cancer cells from growing; therapy aims to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. Radiation may be used in addition to chemotherapy for certain high-risk patients. Radiation may be directed to one specific area of the body or at the body as a whole.

Surgical procedures

Bone marrow transplant - During a bone marrow transplant, healthy bone marrow is introduced into the body. This process replaces diseased bone marrow with leukemia-free marrow. During this treatment, doctors administer high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, which destroys leukemia-producing bone marrow. This marrow is then replaced by bone marrow from a compatible donor.

Stem cell transplant - Stem cell transplant is similar to bone marrow transplant except that cells used for transplant are collected from stem cells that circulate in the bloodstream (peripheral blood). Doctors use this procedure more frequently than bone marrow transplant because of shortened recovery times and possible decreased risk of infection.

It is important to have open discussions with your doctor. Feel free to ask any question you have, no matter how small it might seem. Nurses, social workers, and other members of the treatment team may also be able to answer many of your questions.

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