Treatment

The treatment that’s right for you depends mainly on the type of leukaemia, your age, and your general health. People with leukaemia have many treatment options, and you may receive more than one type of treatment.Treatment options may include:

  • Watchful waiting
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stem cell transplant

If you have chronic leukaemia without symptoms, you may not need treatment right away. This option is called watchful waiting. When the disease worsens, treatment can often control the disease and its symptoms. After treatment controls leukaemia, people may receive therapy known as maintenance therapy, which helps keep the leukaemia from coming back.

However, people with acute leukaemia need to be treated right away. The goal of treatment is to destroy signs of leukaemia in the body and to make symptoms go away. Maintenance therapy may be given after signs of leukaemia are gone.

At any time, care is available to relieve the side effects of treatment and to control pain and other symptoms. For example, antibiotics are given for infections, and transfusions of blood, platelets, or granulocytes are given for bleeding and other blood problems.

Doctors Who Treat Leukaemia

Whenever possible, people should be treated at a medical centre that has doctors experienced in treating leukaemia. If this isn’t possible, your doctor may discuss the treatment plan with a specialist at such a centre.

Your health care team may include the following specialists:

  • Haematologist: A haematologist is a doctor who specializes in treating blood disorders.
  • Medical oncologist: A medical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating leukaemia and other cancers. Treatments used for leukaemia may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and stem cell transplant.
  • Radiation oncologist: A radiation oncologist is a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with radiation therapy.

Your health care team may also include an oncology nurse, a social worker, and a registered dietician. For a child with leukaemia, the health care team may include a paediatric oncologist.

Your health care team can describe your treatment options, the expected results of each option, and possible side effects. Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. These side effects depend on many factors, including the type of treatment. The specific side effects may not be the same for everyone, and they may even change from one treatment session to the next.

You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a treatment research study (clinical trial). Research studies are an important option for people with leukaemia.

Questions you may want to ask your doctor about treatment options

  • What are my treatment options? Which do you recommend for me? Why?
  • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? How can side effects be managed?
  • What can I do to prepare for treatment?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities?
  • Would a treatment research study be right for me?

Second Opinion

Before starting treatment, you might want a second opinion about your diagnosis and your treatment options. Some people worry that the doctor will be offended if they ask for a second opinion. Usually the opposite is true. Most doctors welcome a second opinion.

If you get a second opinion, the second doctor may agree with your first doctor’s diagnosis and treatment recommendation. Or, the second doctor may suggest another approach. Either way, you have more information and perhaps a greater sense of control. You can feel more confident about the decisions you make, knowing that you’ve looked at all of your options.

It may take some time and effort to gather your medical records and see another doctor. Because some people with leukaemia need treatment right away, ask your doctor whether you can delay treatment for a couple weeks.