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Leukemia - Treatment Overview

The goal of treatment for leukemia is to destroy the leukemia cells and allow normal cells to form in your bone marrow. Treatment decisions are based on the kind of leukemia you have, its stage, and your age and general health.

Treatment for acute leukemia

For ALL

Most treatment plans for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) have 3 steps. These are induction, consolidation, and maintenance.

  • Induction therapy kills leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow to induce remission. Treatments include chemotherapy and corticosteroids. Induction usually lasts 4 weeks and is done in a hospital. But some people who have ALL have leukemia cells with a certain gene change. This gene is called the Philadelphia chromosome. These people will be treated with a tyrosine kinase inhibitor.
  • Consolidation therapy kills any leukemia cells that may be present even though they don't show up in tests. If these cells regrow, they could cause a relapse. Treatments include more chemotherapy and may include stem cell transplant. This step may also include preventive treatment of the brain or spinal cord with radiation or chemotherapy. Consolidation usually takes several months but doesn't require staying overnight in the hospital.
  • Maintenance therapy also prevents any remaining leukemia cells from growing. This may be done using lower doses of chemotherapy than those used during induction or consolidation. Chemotherapy is given with pills and once-a-month intravenous (IV) treatment. Maintenance is often continued for up to 3 years, but during this time, most people are able to go back to being as active as they were before beginning treatment.

When there are no signs of leukemia for 5 years, a person is usually considered cured. But if the leukemia doesn't go into remission, or if it comes back within the first few years, treatments may include more chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, or joining a clinical trial for new treatments.

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