In general, your oncologist will consider your age and type of leukemia you have to recommend you an appropriate treatment. Leukemia treatment is generally less intensive in patients aged over 60 years.
Chemotherapy in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is, in many cases, unnecessary. Mild chemotherapy can be used to reduce the number of white blood cells and reduce the size of lymph nodes and spleen.
Treatment of acute, myeloid and lymphoid leukemia is based on Anti-mitotic Drugs (anti-mitotic chemotherapy); certain substances that are often used in the chemotherapy of these types of leukemia include vincristine and vinblastine. Those medications inhibit mitotic cellular division, and prevent the damage of the disease in the body. However, the treatment destroys not only the tumor cells but also the normal cells in your bone marrow, which makes you susceptible to infections, bleeding and anemia. A bone marrow transplant may also be considered. Sometimes the therapy requires prolonged hospitalization.
Certain types of leukemia, especially when detected early, can be treated effectively with chemotherapy drugs. However, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that affects both healthy cells and cancer cells, which often causes side effects. Adverse effects vary from one person to another and depending on drugs used and their dosage.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
All anti-cancer drugs affect cell division and the immune system (white blood cells). This is why, during cancer treatment, cancer patients are more prone to infections, anemia, fatigue, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, Intestinal disorders or even lesions in the mouth (mucositis).
Radiotherapy (Radiation Therapy)
Radiation therapy is a regional treatment consisting of using ionizing radiation to kill leukemia cells. It can be administered externally (external beam radiotherapy) or internally (brachytherapy or internal radiation therapy). Your oncologist will use the method that thinks can be more effective to treat your condition. Although rare in the treatment of leukemia, both external beam radiotherapy and internal radiation therapy can be used.
Radiation Therapy Side Effects
Radiotherapy can be effective in some types of leukemia; however, it tends to cause severe blood changes including drop in production of new blood cells, nausea, anemia, vomiting, and other short/long-term side effects.
Immunotherapy (Biological Therapy)
Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment aims at stimulating the natural defense of the body (the immune system) to fight against leukemia cells and destroy them. Several molecules are currently used in leukemia immunotherapy; the most common are kinase inhibitors: Imatinib, Dasatinib, Nilotinib and Bevacizumab.
Stem Cell Transplant
This method consists of replacing leukemic cells by healthy cells which can be either from your own healthy cells (autologous stem cell transplant) or a healthy donor (allogeneic stem cell transplant). The stem cell transplant is often used in case of failure of other treatments: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, etc.
Bone Marrow Transplant
This is a complex medical procedure consists of replacing leukemic marrow by leukemia-free marrow (healthy bone narrow). Your own narrow can be used (autologous transplant) or that of an individual who does not have leukemia (allogeneic transplant). Bone marrow transplant is often associated with massive doses of chemotherapy and / or radiation. Although bone marrow transplant is a serious medical intervention, it often brings good result in the fight against leukemia.