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Chemotherapy for leukemia


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. 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 care team will perform regular blood tests and other diagnostic tests to check for leukemia cells, and make modifications to your treatment as needed.

Chemotherapy for acute leukemias

A common chemotherapy treatment for acute leukemias (AML and ALL) begins with induction chemotherapy followed by intensification (consolidation) chemotherapy. 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. Patients with CML may receive Gleevec® (imatinib), Sprycel® (dasatinib) and Tasigna® (nilotinib). Patients with CLL may receive FCR (fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab) and bendamustine.

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. Yourcare 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.

Leukemia chemotherapies

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs designed to slow or stop the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells in the body. It may be used:

  • As a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells
  • Before another treatment to shrink a tumor
  • After another treatment to destroy any remaining cancer cells
  • To relieve symptoms of advanced cancer

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our medical oncologists are experienced in delivering targeted, individualized chemotherapy options while also proactively managing side effects.

Chemotherapy delivery methods

Some chemotherapy delivery methods include:

  • Orally (by mouth as a pill or liquid)
  • Intravenously (by infusion into a vein)  
  • Topically (as a cream on the skin)
  • Injection
  • Direct placement (via a lumbar puncture or device placed under the scalp)

When chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cells throughout the body, it is called systemic chemotherapy. When chemotherapy drugs are directed to a specific area of the body, it is called regional chemotherapy.

Experienced care team

For most of our patients, a medical oncologist serves as their primary doctor. Our medical oncologists specialize in diagnosing cancer and delivering chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and/or hormone therapy. They will work closely with you and the rest of your care team to discuss chemotherapy options based on your individual needs.

Individualized treatment approach

When you arrive at the hospital, your medical oncologist will review your medical history and perform a full diagnostic evaluation, then present you with a treatment plan based on your specific diagnosis.

Chemotherapy is an important part of treatment for many of our patients. Our physicians use leading treatment protocols and practice evidence-based medicine. In some cases, we may use innovative delivery methods to treat certain types of cancer.

We strive to find the right chemotherapy drug, or combination of drugs, for each person. We may use tests, such as tumor molecular profiling, to identify an appropriate drug combination for your disease and help you avoid unnecessary toxicity.

If chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan, your medical oncologist will coordinate your dosage and schedule. You may receive chemotherapy alone, or in combination with other treatment modalities like targeted therapies, surgery and/or radiation therapy.

Throughout your treatment, your medical oncologist will monitor the effectiveness of your chemotherapy regimen and modify your treatment plan accordingly.

Managing chemotherapy side effects

While chemotherapy targets cancer cells, it can also damage healthy cells and cause unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and mouth sores. Your dedicated care team will provide a variety of supportive care services to help you prevent or manage side effects throughout your chemotherapy treatment.