Treatment for leukemia aims to destroy the leukemia cells and allow normal blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets) to form in the bone marrow. There are many treatment options for patients with leukemia. The basic treatment options for leukemia are:
The treatment your doctor recommends will be based on factors such as:
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the most commonly used mode of treatment for leukemia. Chemotherapy involves the use of certain drugs to destroy or kill cancer cells or prevent the cells from dividing. During chemotherapy, you may be given a combination of two or more drugs. These medications may be given orally or through your veins (intravenously). The type of drug sued depends on the stage and type of leukemia.
In most acute leukemia, drugs are given in stages:
Intrathecal chemotherapy: If the leukemia spreads to the brain and spinal cord, standard chemotherapy cannot be done as the treatment cannot reach these areas. The way to give chemotherapy to these areas (brain and spinal cord) is known as intrathecal chemotherapy. During intrathecal chemotherapy, the drugs are injected directly into the spinal canal to attack any leukemia cells present there.
Radiation therapy: In radiation therapy or radiotherapy, high-powered energy beams such as X-rays are used to kill or destroy the cancer cells. External beam radiation (radiation is given by a machine outside your body) is mostly used to treat acute leukemia that has spread to the brain and the spinal cord.
Stem cell transplant: Stem cell transplant aims to destroy all the cells present in the bone marrow (both the normal and leukemia cells) and then replace them with new normal cells. Before the transplant, the marrow is destroyed by the treatment through high doses of anticancer drugs or radiation. The cells that are used to replace the marrow may be autologous (the person’s own stem cells preserved before treatment), allogeneic (matched stem cells from another person) or syngeneic (stem cells donated by an identical twin).
Biologic Therapy: The treatment aims to improve your body's natural immune system to fight off cancer cells by using the knowledge that is specific to the cancer so as to eliminate it.
Surgery: In some types of chronic leukemia, the spleen is removed surgically. The spleen is an organ present in the abdomen, which collects leukemia cells and can enlarge. The leukemic cells can cause damage to the spleen and other complications.
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