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Types of Treatment for Leukemia

chemo iv bottles
Chemotherapy IV bottles

Your doctor will choose from these treatments, depending on the type and phase of leukemia you have and other factors:

  • Chemotherapy. You may get 1 or more types of drugs to kill leukemia cells or to stop their growth.

  • Radiation therapy. A special kind of X-ray can kill cancer cells throughout the body or in 1 area. This treatment is most often used as part of a stem cell transplant. It may also be used to help control pain. For leukemia, it is rarely used to shrink a tumor.

  • Targeted therapy. This kind of treatment uses drugs that attack specific factors that make cancer cells different from normal cells. This kills leukemia cells or stops their growth.

  • Stem cell transplant. Other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy, may damage cells in your bone marrow. If so, a stem cell transplant can replace these lost cells, allowing doctors to give higher doses of chemotherapy.

  • Biologic therapy. This type of treatment helps your immune system fight your leukemia.

  • Surgery. In most cases, surgery can do little for leukemia. If you have a swollen spleen, your doctor may remove it. This can help take pressure off other organs. It can also improve your blood cell count. 

  • Watchful waiting. For some chronic leukemias, you may not need treatment right away. Instead, your doctor will watch you closely for new symptoms or signs that the leukemia is progressing. If this happens, treatment can then be started. 

Your doctor may suggest that you have more than 1 type of treatment. This is sometimes called combination therapy. New types of treatment may be available only through a research study. This is called a clinical trial. You can ask your doctor about that option.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim APRN, FNP
Date Last Reviewed: 1/20/2014
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