Acute leukaemia

Planning treatment

Acute leukaemia

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Your specialist works with a multidisciplinary team (MDT) to recommend treatment options for you. The specialist will explain these to you, and together you will agree on a treatment plan.

Our Canrefer website has information about MDTs in NSW.

It is a good idea to take someone with you to appointments to support you and help you remember what is discussed.

Treatment for acute leukaemia usually starts very soon after diagnosis.

You may feel that everything is happening very quickly, but you can ask your specialist to explain the treatment to you.

What you need to know

Acute leukaemia treatment options

The best treatment for your leukaemia depends on several things:

  • the type of leukaemia you have
  • the chromosome changes or abnormalities in the leukaemia cells
  • whether your leukaemia has spread to your brain or spinal cord (CNS)
  • whether you have had chemotherapy or radiotherapy before
  • your general health and whether you have any other health problems
  • your age
  • your own choices and preferences.

Ongoing treatment for the leukaemia will also depend on how well you tolerate the treatment and how well your leukaemia responds to the treatment.

Some cancer treatments can affect fertility.

​If having children in the future is important to you, talk to your doctor about this BEFORE you start treatment. 

Types of treatment for acute leukaemia

Treatment for acute leukaemia may include one or several of the following:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant)
  • targeted therapy
  • immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for acute leukaemia. It is often given on an inpatient basis.

Some people also have palliative care to manage symptoms, or take part in clinical trials which test new cancer care options.

Purpose of treatment for acute leukaemia

The purpose or goal of treatment is known as the treatment intent.

Depending on your situation, this may be to achieve:

  • curative – to cure the cancer completely
  • remission – a period when there is very low levels or undetectable levels of the cancer
  • disease control - so that the cancer doesn’t get worse
  • palliative – to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

The phases of treatment for acute leukaemia

There are different treatment phases for acute leukaemia:

  • induction – the aim to destroy the leukaemia cells resulting in a remission
  • consolidation – treatment after a remission, to stop the leukaemia coming back
  • maintenance –extended treatment mainly used in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia to maintain the remission
  • treatment for relapsed or refractory leukaemia – used when the leukaemia has come back or not responded to initial treatment.

What to ask or talk about

Understanding your treatment options

Your specialist should explain:

  • what they think is the best treatment for you
  • how helpful they expect it to be
  • where you can have your treatment
  • any side effects you may get
  • whether there is a clinical trial you could take part in
  • any costs involved with treatment.

This will help you to make an informed decision about what treatment to have.

Making treatment decisions

Some key points to remember when making treatment decisions:

  • Make sure you have all the information you need to make your decision, including what costs will be involved.
  • Ask the specialist to explain more clearly if you don’t understand the choices.
  • Don’t be rushed into decisions.
  • Take time to think about your choices and discuss them with your doctors and your family or friends.
  • If you are not happy with the choices you are offered, you can ask to see another specialist for a second opinion.​

checklist Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Treatment plan

Once you and your specialist have agreed on your treatment, a treatment plan will be made. 

The treatment plan gives details of:

  • the different treatments you will have
  • the order you will have them in
  • where you will have each treatment
  • what each treatment will involve
  • how long the treatment will take. 

Starting treatment

Before you start treatment, make sure you know:

  • the date and time of your first treatment
  • where you need to go
  • if you need any tests beforehand
  • whether there is anything you should do to prepare
  • when you next need to see your specialist.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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