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For most people with leukemia, chemotherapy will be used to treat the cancer. This uses a drug or a combination of drugs to kill leukemia cells. Chemotherapy treatment may be given by mouth, through a catheter, or by injection into a vein, into the cerebrospinal fluid, or into the spine. Side effects of chemotherapy treatment for leukemia may include increased risk of infection, fatigue, nausea, and fertility-related problems.

An Introduction to Treating Leukemia With Chemotherapy

Most people with leukemia receive chemotherapy, which is a type of treatment that uses drugs to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia that a person has, he or she may receive a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs.
Chemotherapy treatment for leukemia may be given in several different ways, which include:
  • By mouth
  • By injection into a vein
  • Through a catheter
  • Injection directly into the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Injection into the spine or a Ommaya reservoir
When leukemia chemotherapy treatment is administered in this fashion, a thin, flexible tube is placed in a large vein, often in the upper chest. A catheter that stays in place is useful for people who need many IV treatments. The healthcare professional will then inject drugs into the catheter, rather than directly into a vein. This method avoids the need for many injections, which can cause discomfort and injure the veins and skin.
Injection into the Cerebrospinal Fluid
If the pathologist finds leukemia cells in the fluid that fills the spaces in and around the brain and spinal cord, the doctor may order intrathecal chemotherapy. The doctor will then inject drugs directly into the cerebrospinal fluid.
This method is used because drugs given by IV injection or taken by mouth often do not reach cells in the brain and spinal cord. There is a network of blood vessels that filter blood going to the brain and spinal cord. This blood-brain barrier stops drugs from reaching the brain. The patient may receive the drugs from an injection into the spine or Ommaya reservoir.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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