Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

Main treatments

The following are used in the treatment of ALL:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Steroids
  • Biological therapies
  • High-dose therapy with stem cell transplant

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control your leukaemia. This is the main treatment for ALL. You may need several courses of chemotherapy before the leukaemia is said to be in remission. This means there are no active signs of the disease.

The drugs are often given in combination. Some common drugs used are:

Please see our Understanding Chemotherapy booklet, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more details.

Learn more about chemotherapy

Steroids

Steroids are substances made naturally in your body. They can be given with chemotherapy to treat ALL because they work well together. They can also be given to help with some side-effects that you might experience, such as feeling sick. Steroids are usually taken in tablet form but can also be given into a vein.

Biological Therapies

These drugs use your body´s immune system to treat leukaemia. A common drug used is imatinib (Gilvec). It is often given to those who have the Philadelphia chromosome.

Learn more about biological therapy

High-dose treatment with stem cell support

High doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy can be given along with a stem cell transplant if the first treatment did not fully work or if the leukaemia returns. The aim is to give high doses of chemotherapy to destroy all the blood cells in your bone marrow and replace them with stem cells. These stem cells can then grow into new healthy blood cells.

Before the high dose chemotherapy is given, the stem cells are taken from your bone marrow or your bloodstream (peripheral blood). If the cells are taken from you, it is known as an autologous transplant. If they are taken from someone else, it is known as an allogeneic transplant. For more information see our booklets and factsheets:

Learn more about treatments

Side effects

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the kind of treatment, the dose, the duration and your own general health. Some treatments might make you feel sick, vomit or have diarrhoea. You might also lose your appetite or your hair. Many treatments cause you to feel very tired (fatigue). Infertility may be a problem if you have chemotherapy. Steroids can increase your blood pressure and blood sugars and even cause mood changes.

Most side-effects do not last long and disappear once treatment is over. Your doctor or nurse will discuss any possible side-effects with you before treatment begins.

For more about coping with side-effects, see the booklets Understanding ChemotherapyUnderstanding RadiotherapyCoping with FatigueDiet and Cancer and Understanding Cancer and Complementary Therapies, all available to download under the "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page.

Learn more about side effects

Clinical trials

If a treatment looks like it might be helpful, it is often given to patients in research studies called clinical trials. Trials may be taking place at the hospital you are attending. If you are interested in taking part, talk to your doctor. He or she can advise you if the trial would suit you or not.

Learn more about clinical trials

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm