Once leukemia has been detected and classified your team of specialists in oncology, radiation oncology, and pathology will work together to assess your best course of treatment for your leukemia. This will include formulating a coordinated plan of personalized treatment consistent with the highest standards of care. Your treatment will be tailored to the type of leukemia you have, and may include a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and the use of drugs known as biological agents. Also, you may want to explore clinical trials, which are studies that test the efficacy of experimental treatments not yet approved by the FDA. Because these are experimental, there is no guarantee that the treatments work. Talk to your WellStar physician to determine whether a clinical trial may be important for you. Most children with leukemia are enrolled in a clinical trial of some type.
Typically leukemia is not treated with surgery. Because it is a cancer in the blood, there is no solid tumor mass to remove. Very infrequently, a patient with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) will need to have his or her spleen removed.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs given by mouth or injection to destroy cancer cells. It can be used to assist in the cure of cancer patients or to prolong life or the quality of life. Chemotherapy is typically used for leukemia patients and occasionally used in concert with radiation.
There are many types of chemotherapy drugs and many drug regimens to use to treat leukemia. The regimen will depend upon several factors. For example, childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), is treated differently from adult ALL, which is treated differently from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Your WellStar physician is experienced in treating all forms of leukemia and is on the cutting edge of chemotherapy treatment options for your specific disease.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) patients may receive radiation targeted at a specific part of their bodies, or they may receive whole-body radiation. Late effects from radiation can be a problem particularly for children, and it is important to discuss these issues with your WellStar physician, who is extremely expert in the late effects of radiation.
Targeted Therapy and Biological Therapy
In addition to chemotherapy, which uses very strong drugs that kill many types of fast-growing cells in the body, new therapies that attack specific vulnerabilities within cells have been discovered to treat some cancers. These therapies do not work like traditional chemotherapy, and they also do not carry the side effects, such as nausea and hair loss, of traditional chemotherapy. A drug called Gleevec has been extremely successful in treating CML, for example, and recently two new drugs, Tasigna and Sprycel, have shown great benefits in treating CML Your WellStar physician is on the cutting edge of leukemia research and will know whether you are a candidate for any targeted drug therapies.
In addition, drugs that help your immune system recognize and attack cancer cells have shown great promise in treating leukemia. Some of these are called monoclonal antibodies. These drugs not only have shown efficacy but they also have the added benefit in having fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy in many people.
Stem cell transplant
Because the production of leukemic cells begins in the stem cells in the bone marrow, a procedure to replace your diseased bone marrow is sometimes recommended. This is typically done if a person does not respond to other, first-line treatments, or if the cancer returns. Before the transplant occurs, you will be given high doses of chemotherapy to kill your diseased bone marrow. You then receive an infusion of healthy, blood-forming stem cells. These can come from a donor, and sometimes they can come from your own body. Many factors influence whether you are a candidate for a stem cell transplant, and if so, what kind. Your WellStar physician and treatment team will guide you through this process with the utmost care.