There are several common treatments for leukemia patients. The information that follows is not intended as comprehensive, but rather provides a broad overview of options available to the medical community.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that begins in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. From there, the disease quickly moves into the blood where it can spread to other parts of the body. It typically chooses the liver, lymph nodes, spleen, spinal cord, brain and even the skin. Acute leukemia means the disease develops quickly and can be fatal within a few months.
To learn more about the different types of treatments used to treat acute leukemia, read on.
Radiation therapy is used for two purposes. The first is to actively treat and kill leukemia cancer cells in the spinal fluid and the brain. The second way in which radiation therapy is used is as a prevention method – essentially to prevent the cancer from returning to different parts of the body after chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is the primary treatment used to address leukemia. There are three major stages of chemotherapy for leukemia patients and these are induction, consolidation and maintenance. Essentially, induction is the phase intended to kill the majority of cancer cells. Consolidation is designed to kill any remaining cells, and maintenance is a low dose phase designed to prevent recurrence of the leukemia.
Remission Induction Therapy
Patients who are diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) will typically undergo remission induction treatments which involve cytrabine and an anthracycline. Because remission induction is so intensive, it’s often undergone on an in-patient basis.
Typically, a course of remission induction will only last between 5 and 7 days. However, because most of the body’s healthy bone marrow cells have been destroyed over the course of the treatment, the patient must endure a lengthy hospital stay following treatment.
Patients diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) will typically undergo remission induction treatments which involve anthracycline, prednisone and vincristine. Generally, bone marrow damage is less significant, and ALL patients can expect shorter hospital stays.
After the initial remission induction, the patient will undergo what is called consolidation therapy. This is designed to destroy any remaining cancer cells and therefore prevent a recurrence.
Patients with ALL might have to undergo ongoing maintenance therapy. Essentially, it is a course of oral medications that can typically be done on an out-patient basis.
Central Nervous System Prophylaxis
Some ALL patients may receive methotrexate, a drug used to treat leukemia, through a spinal tap. This is done to prevent ALL from recurring in either the spinal fluid or the brain.
Transplantation of Stem Cells
Stem cell transplantation is sometimes used in younger patients after remission induction, particularly if they have a poor prognosis. It’s also part of standard treatments for leukemia patients under 50 who have seen their leukemia relapse.
Leukemia is a deadly disease requiring both aggressive and persistent treatment. Fortunately there are several options from which the medical profession attempt to counter it.