Leukemia Chemotherapy Treatment

Injection into the Spine
The doctor will inject the drugs into the lower part of the spinal column.
Ommaya Reservoir
Children and some adult patients receive intrathecal chemotherapy through a special catheter called an Ommaya reservoir. The doctor will place the catheter under the scalp and then inject the anticancer drugs into the catheter. This method avoids the discomfort of injections into the spine.

The Course for Leukemia Chemotherapy Treatment

People receive leukemia chemotherapy treatment in cycles, then a recovery period, and then another treatment period. In some cases, the person will receive chemotherapy as an outpatient at the hospital, the doctor's office, or at home. However, depending on which drugs are given, and the person's general health, a hospital stay may be necessary.

Targeted Chemotherapy as Leukemia Treatment

Some people with chronic myeloid leukemia receive a new type of treatment called targeted therapy. Targeted therapy blocks the production of leukemia cells but does not harm normal cells. Gleevec®, also called STI-571, is the first targeted therapy approved for chronic myeloid leukemia.
Targeted therapy affects only leukemia cells, which means that it causes fewer side effects than most other anticancer drugs. However, Gleevec may cause people to retain water, which may cause swelling or bloating.

Side Effects of Leukemia Chemotherapy Treatment

The side effects of chemotherapy treatment for leukemia depend mainly on the specific drugs and the dose. In general, anticancer drugs affect cells that divide rapidly, especially leukemia cells.
Chemotherapy can also affect other rapidly dividing cells, which include:
  • Blood cells: These cells fight infection, help the blood to clot, and carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When blood cells are affected, patients are more likely to get infections, may bruise or bleed easily, and may feel very weak and tired.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy can lead to hair loss. Although hair will grow back, the new hair may be somewhat different in color and texture.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause mouth and lip sores, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite.
Many of these side effects can be controlled with drugs.
Some anticancer drugs can affect a person's fertility, which may cause side effects that include the following:
  • Women may have irregular menstrual periods or periods may stop altogether
  • Women may have symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness
  • Men may stop producing sperm.
Some men decide to have their sperm frozen and stored before treatment because these changes in fertility can be permanent. Children who are treated for leukemia appear to have normal fertility when they grow up. However, depending on the drugs and doses used, and the age of the person, some boys and girls may be infertile when they mature.
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