Treatment overview

The aim of treatment for ALL is to get rid of the leukaemia cells and allow the bone marrow to work normally again. This is called remission. With treatment, more than 9 out of 10 adults (90%) with ALL will go into remission.

While doctors are planning your treatment, you will usually be given steroids to start getting rid of leukaemia cells.

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for ALL. Some people may also have radiotherapy, targeted therapies or a stem cell transplant.

Treatment for ALL usually takes about 2-3 years to complete. If the ALL comes back (relapses) after treatment, it can often be treated again to get a second remission. When a person stays in remission, they are said to be cured.

Treatment for ALL can affect your fertility. Before treatment, your doctors and nurses will explain what can be done to help preserve your fertility.

You’ll be given treatment in a specialist cancer centre. Some hospitals also have specially-designed teenage and young adult cancer units.

Treatment for ALL

The main treatment for ALL is chemotherapy. Some people may also have radiotherapy, targeted therapies or a stem cell transplant. This will depend on the type of ALL you have and how well treatment is working.

The aim of treatment for ALL is to get rid of the leukaemia cells and allow the bone marrow to work normally again. When there is no sign of the leukaemia and the marrow is working normally this is called remission. With treatment, more than 9 out of 10 adults (90%) with ALL will go into remission.


Steroids before treatment

While doctors are gathering test results to get more information on your leukaemia you will usually be started on steroids. These will start getting rid of leukaemia cells while a treatment plan is made. Usually this only takes a few days.


Chemotherapy

The first phase of chemotherapy called induction is given to get you into remission. Further treatment, called intensification, is given to stop the leukaemia coming back. You then have maintenance treatment to keep the leukaemia away long-term.


Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies are drugs designed to identify and attack cancer cells, while doing as little damage as possible to normal cells. They work by ‘targeting’ specific proteins on or in the leukaemia cells. If you have Philadelphia positive ALL (Ph+ALL) you will usually be treated with a targeted therapy tablet called imatinib (Glivec®) as well as with chemotherapy. This targets the effects of the Philadelphia chromosome.


Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays, usually x-rays, to treat disease. It works by destroying leukaemia cells in the area that’s treated.


Stem cell transplant

Some people may need a donor stem cell transplant. This is where stem cells from someone else (a donor) are given to you to treat leukaemia.


Having treatment

Treatment for ALL usually takes about 2-3 years to complete. This may sound like a long time, but usually most of the treatment can be given as an outpatient.

If the ALL comes back (relapses) after treatment, it can often be treated again and a second remission may be possible. When remission lasts indefinitely the person is said to be cured.


Fertility

Treatment for ALL may cause temporary or permanent infertility. Before your treatment starts your doctor and nurses will discuss this with you. They will explain what maybe done to help preserve your fertility.


Where treatment is given?

You will usually have your treatment in a cancer centre. These centres give specialist treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and stem cell transplants. They are usually based at larger hospitals so you may have to travel to have your treatment and see your haematologist.

Teenagers and young adults

Some hospitals have specially-designed teenage and young adult cancer units (sometimes called TYA units). Other hospitals may have special wards or areas for you if you’re a teenager with cancer. There may be computer games, DVDs and music to help you feel more at home. You may have access to a computer so that you can do some of your school or college work if you feel well enough. There may also be education specialists who can stay in touch with your school or college and support your learning needs while you’re having treatment.

In some hospitals there isn’t a special ward for teenagers with cancer, so you are treated on an adult cancer ward. The staff on the adult cancer wards will still be able to look after your needs, although the facilities may not be the same as those on a unit specially designed for teenagers.