Leukemia Treatment New Options

New leukemia treatment options have revolutionized how the disease is treated and managed. Leukemia, once considered a death sentence, is now a treatable disease. Advances such as imatinib, immunotherapy treatment and new chemotherapy drugs have improved disease outcomes tremendously.

Imatinib and Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Imatinib is a relatively new leukemia treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). This drug has quickly become the mainstay of CML treatment. Imatinib works by blocking proteins necessary for CML cell production. Imatinib is also used to treat some cases of acute leukemia.

Because imatinib targets cancer cells, it causes fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy, which kills healthy cells as well as cancer cells. Most cases of CML respond well to imatinib. Some cases of CML do become resistant to the effects of imatinib. If this occurs, treatment may switch to dasatinib or nilotinib, two related medications.

While imatinib has greatly increased five-year survival rates of CML, its long-term effects are still under investigation.

Stem Cell Therapy: Reducing Treatment Complications

Stem cell therapy replaces diseased bone marrow stem cells with healthy cells from donors. Successful stem cell therapy can cure leukemia, but potential complications are serious, including the risk of post-transplant infection. The immune system is temporarily destroyed during stem cell therapy, and life-threatening infections may occur months after the procedure.

Infection is a particular problem in recipients of umbilical cord blood, as cord blood contains only one-tenth of the number of stems cells found in bone marrow. As a result, the immune system takes longer to reactivate in cord blood transplants.

Researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center were able to manipulate proteins in cord blood to increase the number of stem cells in a unit of cord blood from 200,000 to 6 million, reducing engraftment time from a month to two weeks (engraftment occurs when the donated stem cells begin producing white blood cells).

Cladribine and Pentostatin

Despite new leukemia treatment options, chemotherapy remains the most common treatment for leukemia. The drugs cladribine and pentostatin are used to treat hairy cell leukemia (HCL).

Hairy cell leukemia progresses slowly, but prior to the use of cladribine and pentostatin, the disease was difficult to treat. Long-term remission of HCL is now possible with as little as one week of cladribine treatment.

Immunotherapy Treatment

Immunotherapy treatment is of growing interest as a new leukemia treatment. By using synthetic versions of immune system cells or proteins, immunotherapy treatment encourages the immune system to target and destroy cancer cells.

Research regarding immunotherapy treatment is ongoing. The immunotherapy treatment agent interferon is used to treat some types of leukemia if other therapies prove ineffective.


Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2006). New approaches to treatment. Retrieved April 6, 2010, from http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/ll_page.adp?item_id=4702.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2006). FDA approves new leukemia treatment dasatinib (sprycel). Retrieved April 6, 2010, from: http://cnn.co.hu/HEALTH/library/DI/00071.html.