Leukemia Treatment

Acute Versus Chronic Leukemia Treatment

People with acute leukemia need to be treated right away. The goal of acute leukemia treatment is to bring about a remission. Then, when signs and symptoms of the disease disappear, more treatment may be given to prevent a relapse. This type of treatment is called maintenance therapy. Many people with acute leukemia can be cured.
Chronic leukemia patients who do not have leukemia symptoms may not require immediate treatment. The doctor may suggest watchful waiting for some patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The healthcare team will monitor the patient's health so that leukemia treatment can begin if symptoms occur or worsen. When treatment for chronic leukemia is needed, it can often control the disease and its symptoms. However, chronic leukemia can seldom be cured. Patients may receive maintenance therapy to help keep the cancer in remission.

Side Effects

Leukemia treatment may damage healthy cells and tissues, which may lead to unwanted side effects. Specific side effects depend on many factors, including the type and extent of the treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each person, and they may even change from one treatment session to the next. Before treatment starts, healthcare providers should explain the possible side effects and suggest ways to manage them.

Supportive Care

Treating leukemia can lead to other health problems, which is why patients receive supportive care (also called symptom management, supportive care, or palliative care). Supportive care is used to prevent or control these problems and to improve patients' comfort and quality of life during leukemia treatment.
Health problems that can result from the treatment of leukemia include:
  • Infections -- People with leukemia can get infections very easily. Therefore, they may receive antibiotics and other drugs to help protect them from infections. The healthcare team may advise patients to stay away from crowds and from people with colds and other contagious diseases. If an infection develops, it can be serious and should be treated promptly. Patients may need to stay in the hospital for treatment.
  • Anemia and bleeding -- These are other problems that often require supportive care. Patients may need transfusions of red blood cells to help them have more energy. Platelet transfusions can help reduce the risk of serious bleeding.
  • Dental problems -- Dental care is also very important. Leukemia and chemotherapy can make the mouth sensitive, easily infected, and likely to bleed. Doctors often advise patients to have a complete dental exam and, if possible, undergo needed dental care before chemotherapy begins. Dentists can show patients how to keep their mouth clean and healthy during treatment.
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Treatments for Leukemia

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