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Treatments – Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

The treatments used to manage chronic lymphocytic leukemia can vary depending on a number of variables. The general health of the patient must be taken into account, as well as the age of the patient and the stage that the condition was diagnosed in. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is considered an incurable condition, but it is a condition that can be managed effectively for a number of years. Individuals diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia tend to live between 5 to 25 years after diagnosis, depending on the stage of the condition when diagnosed. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia primarily affects older individuals and is considered rare in individuals under the age of 40. The condition progresses slowly and can be asymptomatic for many years.

In the early stages of the condition, chronic lymphocytic leukemia does not show any symptoms and is generally not treated by the physician if diagnosed in this stage. This is because many of the treatments used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia are just as destructive to healthy cells as they are to cancer cells. Individuals undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia have a high risk of experiencing adverse side effects from the treatment and may need to be hospitalized during treatment and for a short while afterward. Because the condition typically progresses slowly, many physicians will recommend delaying treatment until the symptoms of the condition begin to interfere with the patient’s quality of life. The number of agents available for use in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia number in the dozens and which ones are used vary by the individual needs of the patient.

When it has been decided that treatment is needed, the treatment used typically depends on how fast the condition is progressing. Treating the condition focuses more on managing the condition rather than curing it. One common treatment used for chronic lymphocytic leukemia is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the treatment most often used in the management of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, using high doses of medications to kill the leukemia cells in the body. The medications may be taken orally or injected into a vein directly into the bloodstream. The medications are unable to distinguish healthy cells from abnormal ones, so chemotherapy kills many healthy cells as well. After chemotherapy, individuals may not be able to resist infection as effectively and will need to be hospitalized for a short time after treatment.

Radiation therapy may also be used in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Radiation therapy is meant to accomplish the same goal as chemotherapy, but uses radioactive materials instead of chemical agents. The radiation destroys large numbers of healthy cells along with the destruction of the leukemia cells and can cause lethargy and fatigue for an extended period of time after treatment. Biological therapy, also known as immunotherapy, is used for chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment in some cases, which boosts the immune system to destroy the abnormal blood cells throughout the body. Biological therapy is generally used when chemotherapy or radiation therapy is ineffective.

In rare cases, stem cell transplantation may be used to control chronic lymphocytic leukemia when no other options are effective. Also called allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, this type of treatment carries a greater risk of adverse side effects than other common chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatments, so it is used rarely. Over time, the condition will become resistant to treatment and become classified as “refractory” chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Although the condition can be devastating, it progresses very slowly and may not need treatment for many years.

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