Leukemia Treatment Palliative Care

Palliative care for leukemia focuses on relieving symptoms, improving quality of life and supporting the patient throughout treatment for leukemia. Palliative care demands are different for different types of leukemia. For example, acute leukemia palliative care differs from chronic leukemia care.

Palliative care is different from treatment designed to cure a disease. Instead, the goal of palliative care is to improve a patient’s quality of life and relieve suffering by focusing on physical and emotional wellbeing.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

Palliative care is often confused with hospice care, or end-of-life care. Hospice care includes palliative care by necessity, but palliative care alone doesn’t mean that treatment for leukemia has failed. Instead, palliative care provides support in a number of areas, including:

  • Education
  • Emotional support
  • Pain management
  • Treatment complications.

Pain Management and Treatment for Leukemia

Leukemia can cause pain, including joint and bone pain due to accumulations of leukemia cells. Chronic leukemia may result in an enlarged spleen that places pressure on surrounding tissue, causing discomfort and pain. Infection of lymph nodes by leukemia cells can cause painful swelling.

Treatment for leukemia, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can also cause pain. In addition to treatment itself, causes of pain may include multiple needle sticks due to chemotherapy administration and blood sample and bone marrow collections.

Pain medication may be prescribed to manage leukemia pain. Pain caused by chemotherapy injection can be mitigated with central venous catheterization, a surgical procedure where a temporary catheter is inserted into a vein for administration of chemotherapy drugs.

Other strategies for managing leukemia pain may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Counseling
  • Exercise therapy
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation or breathing techniques
  • Stress management techniques.

Prevention of Leukemia Treatment Problems

Prevention of treatment complications is an important part of palliative care for various types of leukemia. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy weaken the immune system, especially when given in the doses required for stem cell transplantation.

Prophylactic antibiotics may be provided to lower the risk of infection during treatment for leukemia. If necessary, antifungal and antiviral medications are employed. The patient may also receive nutritional advice from a dietician on how best to eat during leukemia treatment.

Emotional Support for Leukemia Patients

Acute leukemia symptoms develop rapidly, and chronic leukemia may not be detected until the disease is advanced. The transition from feeling healthy to facing a life-threatening illness is rapid and abrupt for many leukemia patients.

The emotional toll of leukemia on patients should not be understated. Palliative care may include counseling and support for both the patient and her family.

Patient Education and Palliative Care

Palliative care may also include educating the patient on his disease and offering suggestions on how to live with leukemia. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, for instance, is often not treated in its early stages, unlike other types of leukemia. Instead, doctors typically recommend “watchful waiting,” or monitoring the patient for chronic leukemia symptoms. Palliative care may include educating the patient on what signs to look for and report to medical professionals.


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Get Palliative Care. (n.d.). What is palliative care? Retrieved April 1, 2010, from http://www.getpalliativecare.org/whatis.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Staff. (2010). End-of-life. Retrieved March 31, 2010, from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website: http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page?item_id=280075.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Staff. (2009). Pain management. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website: http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page.adp?item_id=85794.

Saraiya, B. (2009). The uniqueness of palliative care in leukemia. Retrieved March 31, 2010, from the HemOnc Today website: http://www.hemonctoday.com/article.aspx?rid=40809.

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