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Chemotherapy for Leukemia
For most leukemia patients at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), chemotherapy is an important part of treatment. Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to destroy tumor cells in the body by impeding their growth and reproduction.
Chemotherapy for leukemia often consists of giving several drugs together in a set regimen. Because each medication destroys tumor cells in different ways, a combination of drugs may make the cells more vulnerable to treatment.
For patients with leukemia, chemotherapy is typically given:
- Orally – by mouth (pill form)
- Intravenously – injection into the vein*
Intrathecally – into the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (see Intrathecal Chemotherapy)
*For many of our patients, we place a port (central venous access catheter) to deliver chemotherapy, give intravenous fluids and obtain blood samples. This helps to minimize the discomfort of multiple needle pricks.
Throughout your leukemia chemotherapy treatment, your CTCA care team will perform regular blood tests and other diagnostic tests to check for leukemia cells, and make modifications to your treatment as needed.
Types of Chemotherapy for Leukemia
Your team of leukemia experts at CTCA provides leading chemotherapy treatments to fight the different forms of leukemia, and to prevent the disease from recurring. You may receive chemotherapy alone, or in combination with other leukemia treatments, such as immunotherapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplantation.
Chemotherapy for Acute Leukemias
In induction chemotherapy, a combination of drugs is used to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible and bring blood counts to normal. Then, intensification (consolidation) chemotherapy is used to destroy any remaining leukemia cells that cannot be seen in the blood or bone marrow.
Patients with ALL may also receive maintenance chemotherapy. This less intensive course of chemotherapy is used to reduce the risk of the disease recurring after treatment has finished.
Chemotherapy for Chronic Leukemias
A common chemotherapy treatment for chronic leukemias is oral chemotherapy.
Helping You Manage Chemotherapy-Related Side Effects
While chemotherapy destroys rapidly dividing cancer cells, it can also affect normal fast-growing cells, such as those in the hair, mouth, GI tract and bone marrow. Chemotherapy for leukemia may also temporarily interfere with the ability of the bone marrow to produce adequate numbers of blood cells.
Depending on the drugs used and your individual response, you may experience side effects of chemotherapy. Your CTCA care team will use a combination of approaches to prevent or manage chemotherapy-related side effects throughout leukemia chemotherapy treatment.
Therapies like nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, pain management and oncology rehabilitation can help keep you nourished and strong so you can better tolerate treatment and continue to participate in the activities you enjoy most. Mind-body medicine and spiritual support can improve your emotional well-being throughout treatment.
The following are examples of how we help you manage chemotherapy-related side effects:
- Nausea: Your oncologist can prescribe medication and your naturopath can recommend natural therapies to ease nausea.
- Taste Changes: Your dietitian will work with the hospital’s culinary team to find foods that appeal to you and that your body can tolerate.
- Cardiotoxicity: Your naturopath can recommend certain antioxidants, herbal medicines or amino acids to help support the heart muscle.
- Fatigue: Your rehabilitation therapist can recommend light exercises and energy-saving techniques to help you build strength and endurance.
- Neuropathy: Your pain specialist can provide various methods to help control neuropathic pain and promote nerve regeneration.
- Mouth Sores: Your naturopath can recommend therapies to ease mouth sores and your dietitian can help you maintain your nutritional health.
- Hair Loss: An image enhancement specialist can work with you to help you prepare for hair loss and promote your self- image.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Your mind-body therapist can help you deal with the emotional issues that arise from sexual problems and help you find ways to build intimacy in your relationship.
- Lowered Blood Cell Counts: If routine blood tests reveal that your counts are low, we can use certain drugs to help stimulate blood cell production, or give you a transfusion to restore your counts to a normal level.
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