Treatment for leukaemia
Treatments will depend on the type of leukaemia you have.
The most common form of treatment for ALL is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells while doing the least possible damage to healthy cells. Chemotherapy is given through a liquid drip into a vein (intravenously), an injection into a muscle or as tablets. You will probably have chemotherapy as a course of several sessions (cycles) over approximately 6 months. Your cancer specialist will explain your treatment schedule.
Treatment for ALL can be divided into three phases:
- Induction therapy –This is a quick and intensive course of treatment aimed at bringing about, or inducing, a remission. It will require you to be admitted to hospital.
- Post-remission (consolidation) therapy – If remission is achieved following induction therapy, additional treatment is required soon after in order to help destroy any remaining signs of ALL in your body. This is usually delivered in treatment ‘blocks’ over several months.
- Maintenance therapy – This treatment generally takes place for several months and is aimed at keeping you in remission and preventing future relapse.
The most common form of treatment for AML is chemotherapy, which is aimed at inducing remission by destroying all signs of leukaemic cells in the blood and bone marrow.
If remission is achieved, a form of post-remission treatment is often given as a way of stopping the leukaemia returning. Several factors will determine the type of post remission treatment you receive, including:
- the type of disease involved;
- how well it responded to induction therapy;
- your age;
- and your general health.
While a good number of AML patients will achieve remission, some will relapse which can affect additional treatment.
Relapsed AML is often more resistant to treatment, so if you have not had an allogenic transplant (a stem cell transplant using marrow collected from a matched and healthy donor) this treatment option will be considered.
Often people with CLL will have no symptoms and will not require treatment, particularly in the early stages.
It is only once the CLL progresses, is advanced or causes symptoms that treatment starts, which for most, is after many years.
The most common forms of treatment include:
- Chemotherapy – a combination of anti-cancer drugs given through a drip into a vein (intravenously), an injection into a muscle or as tablets over several cycles and accompanied by rest periods.
- Monoclonal antibody therapy – this treatment works by intravenously transfusing monoclonal antibodies which support your own immune system to recognise CLL cells as foreign and kill them. Improved results have recently been achieved through combining a monoclonal antibody like alemtuzumab or rituximab with chemotherapy.
There are a number of treatment options for CML, and the treatment you are given will depend on a number of things, including:
- The phase of your lymphoma
- How old you are
- Your overall health
Generally, the treatment offered to most people with CML is a type of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). These drugs are often very effective at controlling CML through blocking enzyme activity to prevent the growth of leukaemic cells. In most cases, people will need to take TKI medication for life.
This information is reviewed by
This information was written and last reviewed in September 2020 by Cancer Council SA's experienced information team with support from national Cancer Council publications.