Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). One of the distinguishing characteristics of acute leukemia cells is the high rate at which they grow and multiply. Chemotherapy uses high-potency drugs that target quickly dividing cells and destroy them. Some of the healthy cells (such as hair follicles, cells in the lining of the mouth and intestines, and normal bone marrow stem cells) are also quickly dividing cells, so they are killed as well. Their destruction results in some of the side effects that patients may experience.
Some of the drugs most commonly used for the treatment of ALL include:
- Dexamethasone or prednisone
- Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) or daunorubicin
- Cytarabine (ara-C)
- Imatinib (Gleevec)