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Weill Cornell Cancer Center

Treatment of Leukemia

Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for hematologic cancers, though some patients may receive radiation therapy as well and/or a transplant of stem cells or bone marrow.

Weill Cornell offers all of the standard treatments for acute and chronic leukemias.

  • Depending on the type of leukemia, patients may receive one drug or a combination of drugs. It is not unusual for patients to need more than one regimen of chemotherapy to eradicate the disease.
  • Patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia may be able to take a pill called imatinib, which targets a protein responsible for leukemia growth.
  • Some patients with leukemia receive immunotherapies such as antibodies or interferon.
  • Some patients receive radiation therapy to the spleen, brain, or other parts of the body where leukemia cells have collected. Others may receive radiation directed to the whole body, usually before a stem cell transplant.
  • Some patients with leukemia receive a stem cell transplant which allows them to be treated with high doses of drugs, radiation therapy, or both to destroy both leukemia cells and normal blood cells in the bone marrow. New blood cells which develop from the transplanted stem cells replace those destroyed by treatment.

Weill Cornell researchers and physicians are taking the lead in the treatment of patients with leukemia who are age 60 and older. For example:

  • We treat many older patients with acute leukemias with less intensive therapies such as arsenic trioxide or the investigational drug tipifarnib. Patients start with one of these low-intensity regimens and do not receive more intensive standard therapies unless their leukemia persists. This approach spares some patients from the side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy. Weill Cornell oncologists work closely with their colleagues in geriatric medicine to ensure that these patients receive state-of-the-art comprehensive care.
  • Our doctors were instrumental in the development of the oral drug imatinib for chronic myelogenous leukemia and the newer drugs dasatinib and nilotinib.
  • Clinical researchers at Weill Cornell are evaluating investigational drugs such as PI3 kinase inhibitors for chronic lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that primarily strikes the elderly.

In the laboratory, Weill Cornell scientists are studying leukemia stem cells, which lead to relapse, and exploring novel drugs to block their growth. Our scientists are also determining how to manipulate genetic pathways to make leukemia cells more sensitive to therapy.

Clinical Trials

Patients at the Weill Cornell Cancer Center have access to innovative therapies through clinical trials.

Find a leukemia clinical trial at the Weill Cornell Cancer Center.

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