Cancer Support Group

Monday, Nov 20th

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Leukemia Treatment

  • Most patients with leukemia receive chemotherapy. This type of cancer treatment uses drugs to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia, the patient may receive a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs. Chemotherapy is given in cycles, a treatment period followed by a recovery period. Anticancer drugs reach all areas of your body through your bloodstream. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying. Some healthy cells are destroyed as well, which is what causes the side effects, but normal cells are often able to repair themselves after treatment.
  • Biological therapy is treatment with substances that affect the immune system’s response to cancer. Biological therapy or immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, using antibodies to target and destroy leukemia cells.
  • Surgery is less likely to be considered for sufferers of leukemia because leukemia cells are spread throughout the body making it difficult to target one specific area. However, in some cases surgery is done to remove the spleen. The spleen may be removed because blood cells have accumulated, causing the spleen to swell and displace other organs in the abdomen.
  • Radiation is treatment with high-energy rays that destroy cancer cells. Sometimes it is used for leukemia in the central nervous system or testicles as well as for pain caused by bone destruction. However, radiation is not the primary treatment for leukemia. In high doses radiation therapy kills cells or keeps them from growing and dividing. Radiation therapy is helpful in treating cancer because cancer cells reproduce faster than most normal cells. Although radiation does kill normal cells along with the cancer cells.
  • Bone Marrow Transplants are probably the best for a cure in many cases of leukemia. Doctors perform this procedure when leukemia is in remission or when the patient relapses during or after treatment. Patients are given a bone marrow transplant so that their body can be given higher doses of chemotherapy drugs that would not be tolerated otherwise. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells but it also kills normal cells in the bone marrow, making the bone marrow transplant necessary in order to make up for the destruction of normal cells.
  • Stem cell transplantation: Some patients with leukemia have stem cell transplantation. A stem cell transplant allows a patient to be treated with high doses of drugs, radiation, or both. The high doses destroy both leukemia cells and normal blood cells in the bone marrow. Later, the patient receives healthy stem cells through a flexible tube that is placed in a large vein in the neck or chest area. New blood cells develop from the transplanted stem cells.

  • People with acute leukemia need to be treated right away. The goal of treatment is to bring about a remission. Then, when signs and symptoms disappear, more therapy may be given to prevent a relapse. This type of therapy is called maintenance therapy. Many people with acute leukemia can be cured.
  • Chronic leukemia patients who do not have symptoms may not require immediate treatment. The doctor may suggest watchful waiting for some patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The health care team will monitor the patient’s health so that treatment can begin if symptoms occur or worsen. When treatment for chronic leukemia is needed, it can often control the disease and its symptoms. However, chronic leukemia can seldom be cured. Patients may receive maintenance therapy to help keep the cancer in remission.
  • In addition to anticancer therapy, people with leukemia may have treatment to control pain and other symptoms of the cancer, to relieve the side effects of therapy, or to ease emotional problems. This kind of treatment is called symptom management, supportive care, or palliative care.

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