How is ALL treated?

chemotherapy iv drip

The aim of treatment is to put the ALL into remission. 

Remission is when your bone marrow is producing blood cells normally and you have fewer than 5% of the immature leukaemia cells in your bone marrow. If your remission lasts indefinitely, you are said to be cured.

Because ALL is a fast-growing cancer, treatment will start soon after you have been diagnosed. 

When you start treatment, you may need to spend a few weeks in hospital.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for ALL. For people who are medically fit and under 65-70 years of age, usually intensive chemotherapy is given, to try to destroy all the leukaemia cells.  Read more about chemotherapy for ALL.

Steroids: Drugs that can help to kill leukaemia cells when given with chemotherapy. They can also improve symptoms like fatigue and nausea. Steroids are often used with chemotherapy, or you may be given steroids straight away while waiting for chemotherapy to start. You may be given steroids throughout your treatment. Read more about steroids

Targeted therapies: Drugs that target genetic changes. For example, the Philadelphia chromosome. Read more about targeted therapies for leukaemia.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy helps your immune system to work better to fight cancer cells. New treatments are being developed all the time. For example, a type of immunotherapy called CAR T-cell therapy may now be an option in a very small number of ALL cases. Read more about immunotherapy.

Stem cell transplants: This is where all the blood cells in your bone marrow are destroyed and replaced with healthy stem cells. These stem cells should grow into healthy blood cells. Your doctor may recommend a transplant:

  • As a first treatment for high-risk leukaemia.
  • If your leukaemia returns after treatment (relapse).

Stem cell transplants may not be suitable for everyone. It depends on a number of things such as your age and general health, if a donor is available and your type of leukaemia. 

This treatment is intense and has many potentially serious side-effects. Your medical team and specialist nurses will discuss this with you in detail before you consent to treatment.

Read more about stem cell transplants.

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