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How is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treated?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Chemotherapy broken up into several distinct phases has proven effective in treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia in adults. Certain drugs and radiation therapy may be used to supplement the chemotherapy. All together, the course of treatment can last around two years, depending on age of the patient, stage of the disease and treatments used. The most intensive phase of treatment is the first one, called remission induction therapy, in which as many leukemia cells as possible are destroyed. During treatment, a hospital stay of several days or weeks may be necessary while normal levels of red and white blood cells are replenished and the bone marrow recovers. Options for treatment include chemotherapy, chemotherapy with stem cell transplant and possibly newer treatments such as targeted therapy, immunotherapy and biologic therapy.

After remission induction therapy comes consolidation and maintenance or post-remission therapy, which focus on reducing the chances of the cancer returning, or relapsing.

To treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) doctors may use chemotherapy, which is strong medicine that helps fight the leukemic lymphoblasts. People get the chemotherapy as a pill or liquid to be swallowed, or straight into the bloodstream as an injection or infusion. To stop leukemic lymphoblasts spreading to the brain, chemotherapy is usually given in a different way. This involves an injection into the back, just like a lumbar puncture, but instead of taking fluid out, it puts medicine into the spinal fluid. The doctors might also replace damaged red blood cells or platelets by giving the person a blood transfusion.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.