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Cancer Health Center

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Leukemia - Treatment Overview


Treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) will be based on the genetic makeup of your abnormal myeloid cells. This plan usually has 2 steps that includes induction of remission and post-remission therapy.

  • Induction of remission kills leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow to induce remission. Chemotherapy is given by intravenous (IV) treatment. Induction usually lasts 4 weeks, with a week of chemotherapy and then 3 weeks for bone marrow recovery. During this month you will be in a hospital.
  • Post-remission therapy kills any leukemia cells that may be present even though they don't show up in tests. This therapy may involve getting additional chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant. Or your doctor may recommend that you join a clinical trial for new treatments. Chemotherapy may be given to you in the hospital for several days each month for 3 to 4 months.
  • If you have a subtype of AML called acute promyelocytic leukemia, you may get other medicines, such as arsenic trioxide and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA).

Stem cell transplants and chemotherapy are also used when leukemia doesn't respond to treatment or if AML comes back after you haven't had symptoms for a period of time.

To learn more about treatment of acute leukemia, see Medications and Other Treatment.

Treatment of chronic leukemia


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) isn't always treated right away.

Treatment choices for CLL include:

When CLL doesn't respond to treatment, or if it comes back after you haven't had symptoms for a period of time, you may be treated with more chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant. Or your doctor may recommend that you join a clinical trial for new treatments.

When you have CLL, your body isn't able to fight infections very well. You and your doctor need to watch for any signs of infections, such as pneumonia or yeast infections. Early treatment of these and other infections will help you live longer. You can sometimes prevent certain infections or keep from getting very sick by getting a flu shot or a pneumonia vaccine. Your doctor also may give you antibiotics to prevent infection while you are being treated for leukemia.

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