Acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment will vary depending on the age of the patient and the subtype of leukemia. Most often, treatment will include chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia is given in phases. If a patient researches remission, but later relapses, acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment may include radiation therapy and a stem cell transplant. Surgery is not usually used to treat leukemia.
Three phases of chemotherapy are often used as treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The phases include induction, consolidation, and maintenance. The induction phase of chemotherapy is first and usually involves the most intense medications. The intense chemotherapy is intended to put the disease in remission quickly. Cases are considered to be in remission when tests show normal blood counts and no leukemia cells in the bone marrow.
The next phase in the acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment protocol is consolidation chemotherapy. This is done to reduce any remaining leukemia cells. The intensity of this chemotherapy will depend on a patient’s risk factors for relapse. Intrathecal chemotherapy, which is medication delivered directly into the spinal fluid, may also be used.
Finally, maintenance chemotherapy is administered. This is done to destroy any leukemia cells that may not be detected, but are still in the body. The length of maintenance chemotherapy may vary, but can last for two years.
Additional treatment may include radiation therapy. Radiation is more commonly given as part of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment. It may also be used in adults who have leukemia that has spread to the central nervous system.
In some patients, acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment may include a stem cell transplant. A transplant may be recommended for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia that came back or relapsed. Prior to a stem cell transplant, the patient is administered intense chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells in the blood. During a stem cell transplant, donor cells are transplanted into the patient. The goal is for the stem cells, which are immature blood cells, to develop into healthy blood cells.
Depending on their subtype of lymphoblastic leukemia, certain patients may be treated with targeted therapy. This involves taking medications that target a specific part of the leukemia cell. Because the medications target specific parts of the cancer cells and do not damage healthy cells as often as traditional chemotherapy, there may be fewer side effects.
When all other types of treatment have not cured the disease, enrollment in a clinical trial may be recommended. Clinical trials for acute leukemia involve taking medications that are still in the research stages to determine their effectiveness in treating the disease. Clinical trials can be located through medical centers and physicians.