Chemotherapy involves the use of medication that destroys the leukaemia cells. Depending on the type of leukaemia, it can be applied as a single form of medication, although it is more common to combine two or more drugs.
Some cycles of chemotherapy are administered orally but the majority are injected intravenously. For patients who require regular injections through this method it would be necessary to attach a catheter, which consists of a flexible thin tube that is inserted into a large vein, usually in the arm, the thorax, (below the collarbone), or the neck. Through this catheter, all the medication can be administered, removing the inconvenience of repeated injections.
The medications applied intravenously or orally penetrate the blood stream and reach most of the malign cells in the body. However, these methods do not reach the cells that are present in the central nervous system, and are protected by a barrier that consists of a network of blood vessels that filters the blood between the brain and the spinal column. To reach the leukaemia cells that are present in the central nervous system, it is necessary to apply intrathecal chemotherapy, which consists of an injection of anticancer medication directly in the cerebrospinal fluid, usually applied to the lower part of the spinal column. A similar failure to reach leukaemia cells present in the testicles could mean that radiotherapy treatment would be necessary.
Chemotherapy is administered in cycles: a period of treatment followed by a period of recuperation, before another cycle of treatment. Depending on the type of treatment its administration will require hospitalization or could be treated on an outpatient basis, as a day patient, in a consultation at a medical centre or even in the patient's home.
For more information, the following web pages can be consulted:
- National Cancer Institute of United States – Acute Lymphoid Leukaemia in adult
- Leukaemia & Lymphoma Society –Acute Lymphoid Leukaemia
- Leukaemia & Lymphoma Society – Guide for ALL patients and caregivers