Leukemia Treatment Acute Lymphocytic

Acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment centers on chemotherapy. Unlike chronic types of leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) progresses rapidly: Without treatment, ALL is fatal within months of diagnosis. Rapid response and treatment leukemia is vital to save lives.

Chemotherapy Treatment for Leukemia

Chemotherapy is the initial treatment for most acute types of leukemia, including ALL and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia. Both adult and childhood ALL are treated with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy treatment for leukemia is divided into three phases:

  • Induction
  • Consolidation
  • Maintenance.

At the time of diagnosis, there may be as many as 100 billion ALL cells in the body. The goal of chemotherapy is to kill as many of those cells as possible during treatment for leukemia.

Leukemia Treatment: Induction and Remission

The induction phase of chemotherapy lasts a month for most ALL cases. The goal of induction is to achieve remission. Remission occurs if the following criteria are met:

  • Blood count returns to normal
  • No leukemia cells are present in bone marrow samples
  • Normal bone marrow cell population rebounds.

Successful remission reduces the number of ALL cells from 100 billion to approximately 100 million. Up to 95 percent of children receiving acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment achieve remission after a month of chemotherapy treatment. This treatment for leukemia may require hospitalization.

While ALL remission is an important step in the treatment of leukemia, it’s important to remember that remission is not a cure. Leukemia treatment must be continued after remission to prevent the cancer from returning.

Induction therapy for ALL includes intrathecal therapy, or spinal taps to deliver chemotherapy medication directly to the central nervous system. Intrathecal therapy either prevents leukemia cells from invading the central nervous system or kills cancer cells that have already spread to the system.

All children undergoing treatment for ALL receive intrathecal chemotherapy, as well as some adults. Expect one to two treatments in the first month of induction, and four to six more treatments in the following two months.

Consolidation Leukemia Treatment

Consolidation chemotherapy lasts four to eight weeks and uses intense chemotherapy to kill any leukemia cells missed by induction therapy. To prevent cancer cells from building a resistance to chemotherapy drugs, several different types of medication are administered. Patients at high risk of relapse, such as those with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphocytic leukemia, may undergo stem cell transplants during the consolidation phase.

Maintenance Chemotherapy

Maintenance therapy attempts to prevent relapse of acute lymphocytic leukemia. Chemotherapy is administered every four to eight weeks. From the beginning of induction to the end of maintenance, successful chemotherapy treatment for ALL lasts two to three years. Boys are more susceptible to ALL relapse than girls, so they may receive extended treatment.

Other Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment Options

Radiation therapy is sometimes used in combination with intrathecal chemotherapy. However, because radiation therapy to the central nervous system can cause learning problems in children, it is used with caution.

Acute lymphocytic treatment may also include targeted therapy, which uses a family of drugs called kinase inhibitors to attack leukemia cells, while sparing healthy cells. Immunotherapy medication that strengthens the immune system’s response to ALL cells may also be employed. Chemotherapy, however, remains the most important acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2009). Treatment of children with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Treatment_of_Children_with_Acute_Lymphocytic_Leukemia_24.asp.

American Cancer Society. (2009). Typical treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Treatment_of_Acute_Lymphocytic_Leukemia.asp.

Mayo Clinic. (2008). Acute lymphocytic leukemia. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia/DS00558/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs.

National Cancer Institute. (2009). Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment (PDQ). Treatment option overview. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/adultALL/Patient/page4.