Treatment of Leukemia

People with leukemia have many treatment options. The options are:

Watchful Waiting

People with chronic lymphocytic leukemia who do not have symptoms may be able to put off having cancer treatment. By delaying treatment, they can avoid the side effects of treatment until they have symptoms. If you and your doctor agree that watchful waiting is a good idea, you’ll have regular checkups (such as every 3 months). You can start treatment if symptoms occur.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia, you may receive a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs. You may receive chemotherapy in several different ways:
  • By mouth
  • Into a vein (IV).
  • Through a catheter
  • Into the cerebrospinal fluid: It is given in two ways
    • Into the spinal fluid
    • Under the scalp
Chemotherapy kills fast-growing leukemia cells, but the drug can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly such as blood cells, cells in hair root and the cells that line the digestive tract. Some types of chemotherapy can also cause infertility.

Targeted Therapy

People with chronic myeloid leukemia and some with acute lymphoblastic leukemia may receive drugs called targeted therapy. Targeted therapies use drugs that block the growth of leukemia cells. For example, a targeted therapy may block the action of an abnormal protein that stimulates the growth of leukemia cells. Side effects include swelling, bloating, and sudden weight gain. Targeted therapy can also cause anemia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, or a rash.

Biological Therapy

Some people with leukemia receive drugs called biological therapy. Biological therapy for leukemia is treatment that improves the body’s natural defenses against the disease. One type of biological therapy is a substance called a monoclonal antibody. It’s given by IV infusion. This substance binds to the leukemia cells. One kind of monoclonal antibody carries a toxin that kills the leukemia cells. Another kind helps the immune system destroy leukemia cells. For some people with chronic myeloid leukemia, the biological therapy is a drug called interferon. It is injected under the skin or into a muscle. It can slow the growth of leukemia cells.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill leukemia cells. Some people receive radiation from a large machine that is aimed at the spleen, the brain, or other parts of the body where leukemia cells have collected. This type of therapy takes place 5 days a week for several weeks. Others may receive radiation that is directed to the whole body. The radiation treatments are given once or twice a day for a few days, usually before a stem cell transplant. The side effects of radiation therapy depend mainly on the dose of radiation and the part of the body that is treated. For example, radiation to your abdomen can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition, your skin in the area being treated may become red, dry, and tender. You also may lose your hair in the treated area.

Stem Cell Transplant

A stem cell transplant allows you 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. After you receive high-dose chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both, you receive healthy stem cells through a large vein. New blood cells develop from the transplanted stem cells. The new blood cells replace the ones that were destroyed by treatment. Stem cells may come from you or from someone who donates their stem cells to you:
  • From you: An autologous stem cell transplant uses your own stem cells. Before you get the high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy, your stem cells are removed. The cells may be treated to kill any leukemia cells present. Your stem cells are frozen and stored. After you receive high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the stored stem cells are thawed and returned to you.
  • From a family member or other donor: An allogeneic stem cell transplant uses healthy stem cells from a donor. Your brother, sister, or parent may be the donor. Sometimes the stem cells come from a donor who isn’t related. Doctors use blood tests to learn how closely a donor’s cells match your cells.
  • From your identical twin: If you have an identical twin, a syngeneic stem cell transplant uses stem cells from your healthy twin.

Nutrition and Physical Activity

It’s important for you to take care of yourself by eating well and staying as active as you can. You need the right amount of calories to maintain a good weight. You also need enough protein to keep up your strength. Eating well may help you feel better and have more energy.

Follow-up Care

You’ll need regular checkups after treatment for leukemia. Checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if needed. If you have any health problems between checkups, you should contact your doctor. Contact us to request an appointment with one of the hematologists at Diablo Valley Oncology discuss the treatment options available to treat your leukemia.