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Leukemia Treatment

Leukemia Treatment

Leukemia is a type of cancer that initiates in the bone marrow, where the blood cells are born (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets) from stem cells. For unknown reasons in some people, the source tissue starts to produce abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. What way are they different form normal white blood cells? In contrast to healthy cells they do not participate in the defense mechanism properly, they grow in an uncontrolled fashion and they do not die when they are not needed any more. These cancerous cells then can easily spread to the bloodstream, the lymph nodes and any other parts of the body, which may induce various life-threatening conditions.  Leukemia cancer cells may outgrow in numbers the normal cells, hence the name “leukemia”, the meaning of which is “white blood”. Leukemia treatment always depends on the type of leukemia diagnosed, which can be:

  • Acute/Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • Acute/Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

What Are the Characteristic Symptoms of Leukemia?

Chronic leukemia treatment is usually started with delay as it may be asymptomatic for a long time and diagnosed during some other routine test.  If the following symptoms appear, they usually imply advanced chronic or acute leukemia:

  • Fever
  • Bleeding and bruising
  • Pain in the bones and joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Frequent infections
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Headaches, fatigue  

Leukemia Treatment Options

Leukemia treatments always depend on the type of leukemia diagnosed, the patient’s age and general health. All leukemia treatments aim to destroy the leukemia cancer cells permanently and restore the bone marrow’s function to produce normal blood cells.

1.       Acute Leukemia Treatment

Treatment should not be delayed, but started right after the diagnosis to destroy cancerous cells and at least reach a state of remission. The most common leukemia treatment is chemotherapy conducted in several cycles called induction, consolidation and maintenance. It is a kind of drug therapy administered orally or intravenously, which kills leukemia cells, but certain healthy cells as well, triggering very severe side-effects.

Targeted therapy uses drugs that are able to block the activity of leukemia cancer genes. This treatment is able to slow the disease but does not cure it. Targeted therapy medications include:

  • Gleevec
  • Sprycel
  • Tarigna
  • Synribo

Radiation therapy uses high dose of energy rays to kill leukemia cancer cells. Doctors may aim at the whole body, or first identify where the leukemia cells have collected (brain, spleen, spinal cord), and target the beams at the specific body part.

Stem cell transplant is performed with healthy allogeneic donor stem cells. The major benefit of this leukemia treatment is that it allows doctors to administer high dosage of drugs and radiation to destroy stem cells, either normal or cancerous, and then change them to new, healthy cells.

2.       Chronic Leukemia Treatment

In this case leukemia treatment is not always started right away, but doctors suggest a period of watchful waiting. Treatment is only recommended when symptoms appear and the condition worsens. They may receive maintenance therapy to keep the illness in remission, but chemotherapy hardly heals chronic leukemia. As in acute cases, the most efficient option is stem cell transplant.

Leukemia Treatment Abroad

The unprecedented cost of health-care in the U.S. applies to leukemia-related expenses as well. In chronic incidents leukemia treatment abroad is hardly feasible because of the ongoing nature of the therapy to ensure survival. As for acute leukemia treatments, overseas hospitals host certified hematologists, medical oncologists and radiation oncologist, who are trained in the latest leukemia treatment drugs and techniques. Treatment and travel expenses may be 50%-60% less in a lower-cost country than in the U.S., whose citizens often get a pleasant surprise when they find themselves treated in a facility designed for international patients.