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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Chemotherapy for leukemia


Chemotherapy for leukemia

Your team of leukemia experts at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (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 reduce 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 may 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 care team may recommend 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 may 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 may improve your emotional well-being throughout treatment.

The following are examples of how we help you manage chemotherapy-related side effects:

  • Nausea: Your oncologist may prescribe medication, and your naturopath may recommend natural therapies to help ease nausea.
  • Taste changes: Our dietitians are available to work with the hospital’s culinary team to find foods that appeal to you and that your body can tolerate.
  • Cardiotoxicity: Our naturopathic clinicians may recommend certain antioxidants, herbal medicines or amino acids to help support the heart muscle.
  • Fatigue: Our rehabilitation therapists may recommend light exercises and energy-saving techniques to help you build strength and endurance.
  • Neuropathy: Our pain specialists may provide various methods to help control neuropathic pain and promote nerve regeneration.
  • Mouth sores: Our naturopathic clinicians may recommend therapies to ease mouth sores, and our dietitians may help you maintain your nutritional health.
  • Hair loss: An image enhancement specialist will be available to work with you to help you prepare for hair loss and promote your self- image.
  • Sexual dysfunction: A mind-body therapist may 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 may recommend certain drugs to help stimulate blood cell production, or give you a transfusion to restore your counts to a normal level.

Leukemia chemotherapies