Chemotherapy for Leukemia
by Michael Jubinville, MPH
Chemotherapy (chemo) uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are passed through the blood and travel through the body. It may be used alone or with radiation therapy.
There are many kinds of drugs that can be used. The care team will help to find the best combination for each person. Chemo is most often given through an IV. Some leukemia has a high risk of spreading to the brain and spinal cord. In this case the chemo may be placed in the fluid around the brain and spine.
Chemo is given in cycles over a set time in 3 phases:
Chemo may not be given right away for chronic leukemias. Treatment may wait until blood cell counts change, or symptoms appear or worsen.
Side Effects and Management
Chemo is made to target cancer cells. However, it can also affect fast growing healthy cells. This can cause a range of health problems. The most common are:
Most of these will fade once chemo has stopped. Other side effects may be long term. It can include damage to the heart and nerves, or some thinking and memory problems. Rarely, other cancers can form.
There are many ways to manage these problems. Medicines and lifestyle changes are the most common. In some cases, the cycles may be changed to lower the chances of serious problems. Talk to your care team as soon as these appear so they can be better controlled.
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Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/13/2019
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