Following on from Part 1 where we talked about the symptoms of blood cancer, in this part we’re going to talk about the treatments available. The treatments available come with varying benefits, side effects and risks. The treatment recommended to you will depend on the type of blood cancer you have, while your doctor will also consider your health and your preferences.
In short, chemotherapy involves using medication to kill cancer cells. There are different types of chemotherapy medication, however they all work in a similar way. The medication stops the cancer cells reproducing, preventing them from growing and spreading.
Your doctor will recommend the best type of chemotherapy for you. You could receive the medication through intravenous chemotherapy, where the medication is given by infusion into a vein. Alternatively, you’ll be given tablets to take at home.
The side effects can include:
- Feeling sick
- Hair loss
- Increased risk of picking up infections
Stem Cell Transplant
A Stem Cell Transplant involves killing the abnormal cells in your bone marrow or lymph nodes through high doses of chemotherapy, and replacing them with new blood stem cells. The new cells could come from a donor or from yourself. The new blood cells will then hopefully start to produce healthy blood cells.
A stem cell transplant will only be used as an option if:
- Other treatments haven’t worked
- The potential benefits of the treatment outweigh the risks and you’re in good health
There are 5 main stages of a stem cell transplant.
- Tests and examinations which assess your health
- Harvesting – where the new stem cells that will be used in the transplant are obtained either from yourself or a donor
- Conditioning – to prepare your body for the transplant
- The transplantation of the cells
- Recovery stage.
Having a stem cell transplant usually involves staying in hospital for a month or more, and it can take a year or 2 to fully recover.
This involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. Similar to other treatments, they damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and spreading. Radiotherapy could be used in the early stages of cancer or after it’s started to spread.
Radiotherapy can be done through:
- A machine (external radiotherapy) which involves aiming beams of radiation at the cancer
- Implants (brachytherapy) which involves placing small pieces of radioactive metal inside your body close to the cancer
- Injections, capsules or drinks (radioisotope therapy).
These treatments will usually be given at the hospital and you’ll need to stay there for a few days after if you have implants or radioisotope therapy. You’ll probably need to do this over a few sessions over the course of a few weeks.
Other treatments include:
- Surgery – which rarely happens but you could need to have your spleen removed
- Types of biological therapy, immunotherapies or monoclonal antibodies – all designed to help your immune system fight cancerous cells.
These are incredibly important in aiding the discovery of new treatments, improving new treatments and increasing the survival rate of cancer. While there are some uncertainties involved for those who take part, the safety and wellbeing of patients is first priority.
Clinical trials are planned medical research studies which are carried out with the aim of improving existing treatments or finding new treatment options. The treatment given will be the newest available and not currently available to anyone outside the trials.
When it comes to deciding what treatment is best, your doctor or consultant will advise you on the best option and explain to you the benefits and drawbacks of every type of treatment. Thanks to charities such as Leukaemia Care and Cure Leukaemia among many others, the treatment options available are becoming more effective and more readily available to those who need it.
For more info on blood cancer awareness month and the #SpotLeukaemia campaign, visit www.leukaemiacare.org.uk.