Leukaemia is usually treated with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses various anti-cancer drugs that forestall the growth of cancerous cells and prevent cancer metastasis. Your oncologist may administer a combination of two or more chemotherapy drugs or a single drug over a period of a few weeks or months. These drugs can be given intravenously or orally.[Read: How do Doctors Decide Which Chemotherapy Drugs to Give?]
Available Chemotherapy Treatments for Leukaemia
- Standard Chemotherapy for Leukaemia— This involves three-fold cycle of chemotherapy.
- Induction Chemotherapy for Leukaemia— This phase has dual purposes to serve; first, to destroy cancerous cells present in the blood and bone marrow; second, to abate the appearance of signs and symptoms of leukaemia. The chemo drugs used in this stage to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are a combination of vincristine, dexamethasone or prednisolone, and doxorubicin or daunorubicin. Depending on the patient’s response to the aforementioned combination of drugs, additional drugs are also prescribed to him. The additional drugs are cyclophosphamide, L-asparaginase, and/or high doses of methotrexate or cytarabine.
- Consolidation or Post-remission Chemotherapy for Leukaemia— Even after the induction chemotherapy, you’ll test negative for leukaemia, however, there still exist a few cancerous cells that can trigger relapse of the disease or metastasise, thus the consolidation chemotherapy involves eradication of the remaining leukaemia cells. In case of ALL, the drugs used in induction chemotherapy will be used for a shorter period whereas treatment of AML involves giving three or four cycles of higher-dose cytarabine alone.
- Maintenance Chemotherapy for Leukaemia— This treatment aims to prevent the growth of remaining leukaemia cells (even after the first two chemotherapies). The dosage of chemo drugs prescribed during this chemotherapy phase is lower than what is prescribed in the first two phases of chemotherapy i.e. the induction or consolidation phase. This phase is specially made to treat patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).[Read: About Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia]
- Intrathecal Chemotherapy for Leukaemia— If the leukaemia metastasises to the brain and spinal cord, the standard chemotherapy treatment fails to kill the cancerous cells in these areas and it is in this case that intrathecal chemotherapy is resorted to. This method involves direct injection of chemo drugs into the spinal canal to target the leukaemia cells present in the central nervous system. The drugs used in this chemotherapy treatment include methotrexate with or without cytarabine or a steroid, such as prednisolone or hydrocortisone.
Your oncologist will decide the dosage of the drugs and frequency of chemo sessions on the basis of the cancer stage and response to the treatment.