Treating Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

(Note: This information is about acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in adults. To learn about ALL in children, see Leukemia in Children.)

If you've been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Your options may be affected by the ALL subtype, as well as certain other prognostic factors (described in Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Subtypes and Prognostic Factors), as well as your age and overall state of health.

Which treatments are used for ALL?

The main types of treatment used for ALL are:

Other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy, may be used in special circumstances.

Treatment of ALL typically lasts for about 2 years. It is often intense, especially in the first few months of treatment, so it's important that you are treated in a center that has experience with this disease. See Typical Treatment of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia for information about common treatment plans.

The treatment approach for children with ALL can be slightly different from that used for adults. It's discussed separately in Treatment of Children With Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

Which types of doctors treat ALL?

You may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors could include:

  • hematologist: a doctor who treats disorders of the blood (including leukemia)
  • medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines

Other doctors might also be part of your treatment team, as well as physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.

Making treatment decisions

It's important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important things to consider include:

  • Your age and overall health
  • The type of ALL you have
  • The likelihood that treatment will cure you (or help in some other way)
  • Your feelings about the possible side effects from treatment

It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in Questions to Ask About Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

In most cases ALL can progress quickly if not treated, so it's important to start treatment as soon as possible after the diagnosis is made. But if time permits, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion might give you more information and help you feel confident about your chosen treatment plan.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials, and ask about the pros and cons of enrolling in one of them. See Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of standard medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the leukemia, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get treatment, but it’s important to talk this through with your doctors before you make this decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.