The goal of treatment for leukemia is to destroy the leukemia cells and allow normal cells to form in your bone marrow. Treatment decisions are based on the kind of leukemia you have, its Reference stage Opens New Window, and your age and general health.
Treatment for acute leukemia
Reference Chemotherapy Opens New Window is the usual treatment for acute
leukemia. For most people, that means receiving drugs
- Induction kills leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow to induce Reference remission Opens New Window.
- Consolidation kills any leukemia cells that may be present even though they don't show up in tests. If these cells regrow, they could cause a Reference relapse Opens New Window.
- Maintenance also prevents any remaining leukemia cells from growing. This may be done using lower doses of chemotherapy than those used during induction or consolidation. This is only used in people with ALL and a few rare forms of AML.
- Reference Radiation therapy is usually given from a machine outside the body that directs radiation to the cancer (external radiation).
- Reference Stem cell transplant Opens New Window may be part of the treatment plan for people who have high-risk acute leukemia. Most stem cell transplants for leukemia are Reference allogeneic. This means that the stem cells are donated by someone else.
Stem cell transplants and chemotherapy are also used when leukemia comes back after you haven't had symptoms for a period of time.
Additional information about acute leukemia is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/leukemia.
Treatment of chronic leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) isn't always treated right away.
Treatment choices for CLL include:
- Reference Watchful waiting Opens New Window. CLL usually gets worse very slowly, and you may have no symptoms for some time. You and your doctor may decide to hold off on treatment for a while. During this time, your doctor will watch you carefully.
- Reference Radiation therapy.
- Reference Chemotherapy Opens New Window.
- Surgery. Your Reference spleen Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window may need to be removed.
- Reference Targeted therapy Opens New Window with a Reference monoclonal antibody Opens New Window. These antibodies can kill cancer cells, stop their growth, or keep them from spreading.
When you have CLL, your body isn't able to fight infections very well. You and your doctor need to watch for any signs of infections, such as Reference pneumonia Opens New Window or yeast infections. Early treatment of these and other infections will help you live longer. You can sometimes prevent certain infections or keep from getting very sick by getting a flu shot or a pneumonia vaccine. Your doctor also may give you antibiotics to prevent infection while you are being treated for leukemia.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is treated right away. Treatment choices include:
- Reference Targeted therapy Opens New Window with a Reference tyrosine kinase inhibitor. This is the first treatment used for CML.
- Reference Chemotherapy Opens New Window.
- Reference Biological therapy Opens New Window. This is the use of special medicines that improve your body's natural defenses against cancer.
- High-dose chemotherapy followed by a Reference stem cell transplant.
- Donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI). This is a treatment that may be used after a stem cell transplant. With DLI, you are given more of your donor's white blood cells (lymphocytes).
- Surgery. Your spleen may need to be removed.
Additional information about chronic leukemia is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/leukemia.
Clinical trials play a very important part in the treatment of leukemia. Clinical trials test the latest drugs and other new treatments. They have made it possible for many people with leukemia to live longer. People who are in clinical trials get all the recommended treatments for their cancer and are closely watched.
Talk to your doctor about whether there is a clinical trial that might be good for you. For more information, see www.cancer.gov/clinical_trials/ or http://clinicaltrials.gov.
Leukemia in children
Treatments for children who have leukemia aren't the same as treatments for adults who have leukemia. After the leukemia has been treated, children may need to be monitored for treatment side effects that may appear months or years later.
Additional information about childhood leukemia is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/leukemia.
Cancer treatment has two main goals: curing cancer and making your quality of life as good as possible. Reference Palliative care Opens New Window can improve your quality of life by helping you manage your symptoms. It also can help you with other concerns that you may have when you are living with a serious illness.
For some people who have advanced cancer, a time comes when treatment to cure cancer no longer seems like a good choice. This can be because the side effects, time, and costs of treatment are greater than the promise of cure or relief. But this isn't the end of treatment. You and your doctor can decide when you may be ready for Reference hospice care Opens New Window.
It can be hard to decide when to stop treatment to prolong your life and shift the focus to end-of-life care. For more information, see:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference October 22, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology