Leukemia: How is this blood cancer treated? | Norton Cancer Institute

Leukemia: How is this blood cancer treated? | Norton Cancer Institute


In the case of chronic leukemias, that’s typically the more aggressive, more serious of the two diseases. I think in order to understand the treatment, it’s good to use the metaphor the garden. If you think of your bone marrow as a garden and as I’ve already mentioned it’s the importance of constantly growing blood
cells, in the case of acute leukemias, your
garden is full of weeds and those weeds have in essence
overgrown the normal plants so now you’re not making tomatoes,
you’re not making corn, you’re not making green beans. In a medical sense, you’re not making red
cells, you’re not making platelets, you’re not making normal white cells
because the weeds are choking off the plants. The treatment for that, therefore, is
to cut everything back to the ground. So we give chemotherapy drugs that we
call induction. We use the word induction
because we’re trying to induce a remission but these drugs that we give, at very high doses
generally, in the hospital over a short amount of
time, so it’s very intense therapy. But these drugs cut everything back to
the ground. What we hope for and what we pray for and what happens most of the
time but unfortunately not always is that the good plants will grow back
and the bed cells don’t. That’s a remission. When we have restored the production of the tomatoes, the green beans and the corn, when you’re making a normal number of red cells and normal number a platelets and a normal number of white cells, we call that a remission. Not only do we get rid of the bad
cells, we’ve had a regrowth of the good cells. That’s a bit different than when we deal with solid tumors, like breast cancer, lung cancer, colon
cancer. In those diseases a complete remission is defined by getting rid of the cancer.
You don’t have to have a restoration of the normal breast tissue, you don’t
have to have a restoration in the normal lung tissue. You just have to get rid of the cancer.
In leukemia, you’re not in the complete remission until you’re able to say that you’ve
completely gotten rid of the disease and the organ, in this case, the garden
or the bone marrow, has to restore itself to normal. In chronic leukemias the treatments are
in general more mild and and the goal is to control the
overgrowth of the abnormal cells and so those are
typically less aggressive outpatient therapies or new therapies that we have that are
targeting specifically the abnormal cell so it doesn’t impact the normal cells as greatly.