» How is Leukemia treated?

How is Leukemia treated?

Today, leukemia can be treated well. Depending on the type of leukemia, the treatment is different. Acute leukemia requires intensive chemotherapy and in some cases a bone marrow transplant. The goal of treatment is to eliminate leukemia cells and allow normal blood cells to recover. In cases at high risk for recurrence, bone marrow transplant treatment is recommended. With modern treatment, leukemia can be cured.


"Chronic Leukemia" can usually be controlled by taking medication. For example, "Chronic Myeloid Leukemia" (CML) can be controlled very satisfactorily by using a drug called "Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor". Now, CML patients are able to live normally without any signs of the disease for a very long period of time.


Children who have been diagnosed with cancer should be managedby a paediatric oncologist (a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer). The paediatric oncologist will work closely with other doctors and health personnel who have the experience and expertise in treating children with cancer and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include the following specialists:

  • Haematologist.
  • Paediatric surgeon.
  • Radiation oncologist.
  • Endocrinologist.
  • Neurologist.
  • Radiologist.
  • Social worker.
  • Rehabilitation specialist and psychologist.
  • Dietitian.


  1. Chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment of childhood leukaemia.
  2. Radiation therapy is less commonly used now. It is given prophylactically in patients with the T-cell type of leukaemia and as treatment in patients with central nervous system leukaemia.
  3. Bone marrow/ Stem cell transplant is the most intensive treatment that can be given. It is used in patients with AML and High risk ALL or Relapsed ALL.


The treatment of childhood ALL is done in phases:

  • Induction therapy: This is the first phase of treatment. Its purpose is to kill the Leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow. This puts the Leukemia into remission.
  • Consolidation/intensification therapy: This is the second phase of therapy. It begins once the Leukemia is in remission. The purpose of consolidation/intensification therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells and prevents the cells from becoming resistant.
  • Maintenance therapy: This is the third phase of treatment and is done on an outpatient basis. The chemotherapy is given orally and in lower doses than those used for induction and consolidation/intensification therapy.

Treatment is usually given for a period of 2-3 years. Because boys generally do worse, treatment for boys is longer. Childhood ALL has a good chance of cure. Most centres are now reporting 90% cure rates for standard risk patients.

Side effects can result from treatment long after it ends. Radiation therapy to the head may affect the child’s developing brain and may cause secondary cancers. Regular follow-up examinations are very important.


Can the disease recur after it has been cured?

Recurrent childhood ALL is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The Leukemia may recur in the blood and bone marrow, brain, testicles, spinal cord, or in other parts of the body. The modalities of treatment are the same as above but will be more intensive.

Updated:: 13/09/2021 []


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