After you have received a diagnosis of leukemia, your doctor will advise you and your family concerning your options for treatment. Because there are several different forms of leukemia, or blood cancer, the recommended treatment may be different than someone else with it.
Diagnosing the Damage Must Come First
Before any treatment can be given, it is necessary to determine the extent of damage first. Tests will be given to determine the blood and platelet counts. Biopsies will be taken in order to see if there is any evidence of leukemia in the bone marrow or in the lymph nodes. Tissue samples will need to be taken of the spleen and of the liver to find out if the cancer is spreading.
A needle will also need to be inserted into your spinal column to draw some fluid. This will enable the doctors to determine if the cancer has reached your central nervous system.
Treatment Depends on the Type
Typical treatment for leukemia involves chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In some cases, stem cell therapy and surgery might also be used.
Using various drugs to treat leukemia is the most common way to treat it. Chemo may use just one drug, or several, and it may be given either as pills, or injected directly. It will destroy most of the blood-producing cells. The individual will most likely remain in the hospital during this time. More than one 5-day session is likely to be needed.
Radiation therapy may follow the dose of chemicals. This can be directed at specific places, or it may be aimed at the entire body. It is often used prior to stem cell transplants.
Under biological therapy, medications are given that will strengthen the immune system. Drugs may also be given that will target the cancer cells, causing them to be attacked by your immune system.
Stem Cell Therapy
In your body, stem cells produce new blood. In stem cell therapy, new stem cells are transplanted from a donor into your bone marrow. This will enable your body to start producing blood cells that are not cancerous. The old stem cells must be destroyed in the area first, which is accomplished by the previous treatments.
After all the primary therapies are completed, a maintenance therapy will be needed. This will typically be given once a month as lower-dose chemotherapy in an IV for up to the next three years. After five years, if it has not returned, it will be comforting to the individual to know that they are considered to be free of leukemia.