What are the treatments for the disease?
The treatment of acute leukemia involves intensive chemotherapy. A combination of powerful medicines is given to the person through the veins. These medicines are usually given over several months. They kill the leukemia cells. They also severely damage the normal cells produced in the bone marrow.
Some people are given bone marrow from another person to help recovery. This is called a bone marrow transplant. It is used only in certain cases.
The first course of therapy is called induction therapy. It is designed to induce a remission or complete destruction of the leukemia. The next treatments are called maintenance therapy. These are designed to make the remission last by destroying any remaining disease.
Chronic leukemia is generally treated with less intense treatments. Chemotherapy is used for most types of chronic leukemia. Biological response modifiers, or BRMs, may be used for some types of chronic leukemia. BRMs are elements of the body's immune system that are combined with medicines to fight cancer.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects of treatments can include some of the same signs and symptoms as the leukemia, such as:
allergic reactions to medicines
bleeding problems that may require transfusions
common or unusual infections
diarrhea or poor food absorption
irritation of the gastrointestinal tract
nausea and vomiting
numbness or burning pain in the extremities
weakness and fatigue
The person will have other side effects related to the type of medicine used. Biological response modifiers cause flu-like symptoms. Nausea is common. Hair loss, or alopecia, is another side effect of chemotherapy. Medicines will be given to control these symptoms.
What happens after treatment for the disease?
After therapy has been completed, the person will regain normal bone marrow function over several weeks. Treatment followed by recovery may be repeated several times until all signs of leukemia are gone.
How is the disease monitored?
Frequent blood tests will be taken to monitor treatment and recovery. Additional bone marrow biopsy samples will be taken to confirm that the leukemia has been successfully treated. After all therapy has been completed, occasional blood tests will be done to make sure the person is still in remission. A bone marrow sample may also be needed from time to time. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.