Treating Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
General treatment information
Adult acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is not a single disease. It is really a group of related diseases, and patients with different subtypes of ALL may have different outlooks and responses to treatment.
After your cancer is diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Choosing a treatment plan is an important decision, so it is important to take time and think about your choices. Treatment options for each patient are based on the leukemia subtype as well as certain prognostic features (described in How Is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Classified?).
The main types of treatment used for ALL are:
Treatment of ALL typically lasts for about 2 years. It is often intense, especially in the first few months of treatment, so it is 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.
You may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. The doctor in charge or your team will most likely be a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in treating blood diseases, including leukemia. Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals.
It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. 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 What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia?
Treatment for ALL usually needs to start very soon after it is diagnosed, 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. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section 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 a doctor’s 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, support groups, 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 on call 24 hours a day, every day.