Treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia

If you have acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your needs and may include a combination of different treatments. When deciding which treatments to offer for ALL, your healthcare team will consider:

  • your age
  • chromosome changes, or abnormalities
  • the subtype of ALL
  • your overall health

Response to treatment

Knowing how well leukemia responds to treatment helps doctors determine prognostic risk group and plan future care. The goal of treatment is to reach a complete remission.

Complete remission, or complete response, means that the numbers of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets) have returned to normal levels and less than 5% of cells in the bone marrow are immature white blood cells (blast cells, blasts). There are no general signs or symptoms of ALL and no signs or symptoms that ALL has spread to the brain or spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS) or anywhere else in the body.

Minimal residual disease (MRD) means that there are blasts in the bone marrow, but they can only be seen using very sensitive tests, such as flow cytometry or polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The blasts can’t be seen with standard tests, such as looking at the cells under a microscope.

Active disease means that the leukemia is still present during treatment or the disease comes back (relapses) after treatment. Active disease means that more than 5% of cells in the bone marrow are blasts.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Leukemia - Acute Lymphocytic (Adults). Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2013.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Leukemia - Acute Lymphocytic - ALL: Treatment Options. Alexandria, VA.: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); 2013: http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/leukemia-acute-lymphocytic-all/treatment-options.
  • Goekbuget N, Hoelzer D . Diagnosis and Treatment of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Wiernik PH, Goldman JM, Dutcher JP & Kyle RA (eds.). Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood. 5th ed. Springer; 2013: 20: pp. 331-354.
  • Health Canada, Drugs and Health Products. Blincyto (blinatumomab) Authorization with Conditions. 2015: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodpharma/notices-avis/conditions/blincyto_dhcpl_lapds_181723-eng.php.
  • Kebriaei P, Champlin R, de Lima M, et al . Management of acute leukemias. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 131: pp. 1928-1954.
  • Kurtin SE . Leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. Yarbro, CH, Wujcki D, & Holmes Gobel B. (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011: 57: pp. 1369-1398.
  • National Cancer Institute. Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2014.

Induction treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Induction treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is given to clear the blood and bone marrow of leukemia cells. Learn about induction treatment for ALL.

Consolidation treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Consolidation treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is given to keep leukemia cells from coming back. Learn about consolidation treatment for ALL.

Maintenance treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Maintenance treatment for ALL is given to maintain remission and often lasts for 2–3 years. Learn about maintenance treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Treatments for relapsed or refractory acute lymphocytic leukemia

Both relapsed and refractory acute lymphocytic leukemia need more treatment to reach a remission. Learn about treatment for relapsed or refractory ALL.

Chemotherapy for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and is usually given for 2 to 3 years. Learn about chemotherapy for ALL.

Targeted therapy for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells. Learn when it is used to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

Radiation therapy for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat ALL. Learn about radiation for acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Stem cell transplant for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Learn about stem cell transplant for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which replaces blood-forming stem cells when they or the bone marrow have been damaged.

Supportive therapy

Supportive therapy is given to treat the complications of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and its treatments. Learn about supportive therapy for ALL.

Follow-up after treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Follow-up after acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) treatment varies. Learn about follow-up appointments and the procedures and tests that may be done.