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Leukemia - Medications

Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for many types of leukemia. Even when a cure isn't possible, chemotherapy may help you live longer and feel better.

Chemotherapy for leukemia is usually a combination of drugs. This is because different drugs attack leukemia cells in different ways. The combination also helps keep the leukemia cells from becoming resistant to any one drug.

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Along with the chemotherapy drugs, other medicines may be given to help the chemotherapy drugs work better and prevent infection or bleeding. These drugs include epoetin and hematopoietic stimulants.

Some types of acute leukemia spread to the brain and spinal cord. Regular chemotherapy can't reach those areas, because your body puts up a special barrier to protect them. A different way of giving chemotherapy, called intrathecal chemotherapy, treats these areas by injecting the drugs directly into your spinal canal to attack any leukemia cells there.

Medicine choices

For acute leukemia

Your treatment plan will include the kind of medicine that works best for the specific type or subtype of leukemia that you have.

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) may be treated with chemotherapy medicines (asparaginase, clofarabine, daunorubicin, doxorubicin, methotrexate, nelarabine, or vincristine) and corticosteroids (dexamethasone or prednisone).
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) may be treated with chemotherapy medicines (cytarabine, daunorubicin, idarubicin, or mitoxantrone).
  • Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) may be treated with chemotherapy medicines (daunorubicin or idarubicin). Other medicines include arsenic trioxide and all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA).

For chronic leukemia

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may be treated with chemotherapy medicines (bendamustine, chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide, fludarabine, or vincristine), corticosteroids (such as prednisone), and monoclonal antibodies (such as alemtuzumab or rituximab).
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) may be treated with chemotherapy medicines (cyclophosphamide or cytarabine) and tyrosine kinase inhibitors (such as dasatinib, imatinib, or nilotinib).
    • People who have CML who cannot have stem cell transplants and are unable to take tyrosine kinase inhibitors may be given busulfan, hydroxyurea, or interferon alfa (with or without cytarabine).

Medicines used for treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are taken orally (by mouth) or given intravenously for limited periods of time. If there is relapse, medicines are given again.

For chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), medicine is usually taken by mouth for as long as needed.

Medicine for nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy. They usually go away when treatment stops. Your doctor will prescribe medicines to help relieve nausea.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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