How is leukaemia treated?
The treatment of leukaemia varies depending on the patient and type of leukaemia they have.
Acute leukaemia (fast developing) is usually curable with standard treatments, such as chemotherapy.
Chronic leukaemia (slow developing), is often incurable but treatable. For CLL (a form of chronic leukaemia) some patients are not given treatment straight away; however if they do require treatment it will often involve chemotherapy.
The main treatments for leukaemia are:
Chemotherapy: This treatment involves the use of drugs. Chemotherapy drugs either kill cancerous cells or stop them from dividing; they can also kill normal blood cells as a side effect. The type of leukaemia you have will depend on the amount and strength of chemotherapy you are offered, along with other factors such as your age and fitness.
Radiation therapy: Similar to chemotherapy, radiation therapy can be used to destroy the cancerous cells but using radiation waves rather than drugs. Again, the type of leukaemia you have will determine what treatment you’re offered. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is often used for CLL. It is a fast, painless procedure which usually lasts just a few minutes.
Targeted therapy: Drugs are used to block the growth of cancer cells by disturbing specific molecules in the cells. Targeted therapy can also kill cancer cells by stimulating the patient’s immune system to recognise the cells as a threat and consequently kill them.
Biological therapy: This treatment does not target the cancer cells directly, but instead helps to stimulate the body’s immune system to act against the cancer. It is also often referred to as “immunotherapy”. It is often used for patients with CML.
Stem cell or bone marrow transplant: Transplants for stem cells or bone marrow are commonly carried out for patients with acute leukaemia, if chemotherapy does not prove effective. By undergoing a stem cell or bone marrow transplant it can help replenish the healthy bone marrow in patients, and stimulate new growth that restores the immune system. It is usually given to younger, or more healthy patients.
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