Chronic leukaemia

Planning treatment

Chronic 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.

What you need to know

Chronic leukaemia treatment options

The best treatment for your chronic leukaemia depends on several things:

  • the type of chronic leukaemia you have
  • the stage or phase of your leukaemia
  • whether you have symptoms
  • your age
  • your general health
  • your own choices and preferences.

For chronic leukaemia you may not need to start treatment for some time and you may have a period of active surveillance.

Ask the specialist to explain your options to you.

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 chronic leukaemia

The main types of treatment for chronic leukaemia are:

  • active surveillance (particularly for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia)
  • chemotherapy – often given with corticosteroid treatment
  • targeted therapy
  • immunotherapy
  • radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
  • surgery to remove the spleen
  • stem cell transplant.

Many people have a combination of these treatments.

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 chronic leukaemia

The purpose of a treatment is known as the treatment intent. Depending on your leukaemia this can be:

  • to achieve a remission – where there is no sign of leukaemia
  • control – to control the chronic leukaemia and stop it progressing
  • palliative – to manage symptoms caused by the cancer.

Active surveillance for chronic leukaemia

Not everyone with chronic leukaemia requires treatment straightaway. Depending on the type of leukaemia, people who don’t have symptoms can be monitored regularly for any changes in their blood tests or for symptoms of leukaemia.

This is known as active surveillance or watchful waiting.

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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