Your doctor and health care team will recommend a treatment plan for you based on the type of leukemia you have—taking into account the specifics of your disease and other important factors, such as your age, your underlying health, whether you’ve already received treatment for your disease and how you responded to any treatment you had.
The goals of leukemia treatment are to achieve long-lasting remission and, when the disease is not in remission, to slow the growth of leukemia cells and manage symptoms. The most common leukemia treatments are chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and bone marrow transplant, all of which are offered at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).
Leukemia Expertise Matters
It is important to receive care at a specialized center, like SCCA, with expertise in treating your specific type of leukemia for several reasons.
- Leukemia is complex. In addition to the four main types of leukemia, there are a number of less common types, and each type may be further classified into many subcategories. Even within one type of leukemia—for example, acute myeloid leukemia—there may be so many possible chromosomal abnormalities that the condition is really a group of related diseases, rather than a single disease. It’s essential to identify the precise characteristics of your leukemia to plan the best care for you.
- Acute leukemias require complicated, intensive treatment protocols; chronic leukemias are often considered incurable diseases that may require care indefinitely. It is important for your doctor to have the most up-to-date knowledge about your particular disease, the best treatment options, and methods to monitor your condition and response to treatment over time to determine whether you need any change in treatment. Throughout, your care should include careful attention to your quality of life and your therapeutic goals.
- Research is constantly advancing our knowledge of leukemia and its treatment. Better understanding of the chromosomal and molecular details is improving our ability to target therapies to your specific disease and monitor your treatment response. New tools and treatments for leukemia have recently been approved thanks to clinical studies. Our specialists are not only familiar with the latest research that’s advancing leukemia care—they often lead this research themselves.
Because acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) progresses quickly, treatment often starts soon after diagnosis. The main types of treatment for people with ALL are chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and bone marrow transplant. Learn more about ALL treatment.
Similar to people with ALL, if you have been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), your treatment will usually begin soon after diagnosis. The main types of treatment for people with AML are chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant. Learn more about AML treatment.
Some people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may not need treatment for a long time after diagnosis; rather, they and their doctor may monitor their condition for any changes. This option, known as watchful waiting, is typically used for people with low-risk or intermediate-risk disease who do not have any symptoms. If your CLL is progressing or if you have high-risk CLL, the main treatment options are chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and bone marrow transplant. Learn more about CLL treatment.
Several new drugs have been approved for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) since 2001. Most people with CML are treated with targeted therapy, and those who have a good response may stay on their treatment indefinitely. Other treatments used for CML include chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and interferon. Learn more about CML treatment.
Supportive treatments are often used for people with leukemia. These may include:
- Antibiotics, vaccines, and anti
-viral drugs to reduce the chance for bacterial or fungal infections
- Transfusions, steroids, or drugs to treat low blood counts or decrease the risk of bleeding
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy directed at the brain or spinal cord (central nervous system) to prevent or treat spread of the disease
Access to clinical studies conducted by researchers at SCCA founding organizations—Fred Hutch and UW Medicine—is one reason why many patients come to SCCA for treatment. The goal of clinical studies, also known as clinical trials, is to develop more effective lifesaving treatments in the fight against leukemia. Immunotherapy—treatment that exploits the patient’s own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells—is a promising new approach being studied for the treatment of leukemia. Other areas of research include testing new treatments, new combinations of treatments, and new ways to deliver treatments more effectively.
For some people, taking part in a clinical study may be the best treatment choice. At any time, SCCA has studies ongoing that are evaluating new treatments for leukemia. Be sure to ask your doctor if a clinical study is right for you. For more information about participating, see our patient guide to clinical studies.
If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with leukemia, you’re probably thinking hard about what to do next. Your most important decision is selecting where to get treatment.