Standard Treatments

A diagnosis of blood cancer will mean you have to make a number of different decisions about treatments. Try to gather as much information as possible about your treatment options and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You need good information to make the best decisions for you and your health.

Remember, everyone is different and your doctor will focus on the best treatment options to suit you.

There are a number of treatments available for blood cancer, including:

Some types of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia grow very slowly and may not need treatment for a long time. Instead, you will be monitored for any changes. This approach is called “watchful waiting”.

Other types will be treated soon after diagnosis.

Treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma usually involves chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia is mostly treated with chemotherapy but not radiation therapy.

Your treatment options will vary depending on the type of blood cancer you have, as well as your overall health.


Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is sometimes used in people with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Radiation therapy uses high energy x-ray beams to kill the cancer cells and is delivered by a special machine. Treatment is generally given every day for a period of weeks.

As with any treatment, you may experience side-effects during radiation therapy. These can include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Tiredness (Fatigue)
  • Feeling sick (Nausea or vomiting)
  • Problems with eating and drinking
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Hair loss

If you experience any side-effects during radiation treatment, tell your medical team. They are in the best position to help you manage any side-effects.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs work to destroy the cancer cells or control their growth.

When you have chemotherapy, you are usually given a combination of two or more medicines intravenously (through the vein).

Chemotherapy is most commonly given every three to four weeks over a period of several months.

Chemotherapy kills rapidly growing cells like cancer cells, but can also kill other healthy cells that grow quickly, such as those in the bone marrow, digestive tract and hair follicles. Chemotherapy treatment can lead to a number of side-effects, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk of infection.

If you’re experiencing side-effects as a result of chemotherapy, speak to your doctor about how best to manage these.

Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell transplantation is sometimes used in people with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who are in remission or who have had a relapse of the disease.

It involves transplanting stem cells from blood or bone marrow. These stem cells can either be provided by a donor or by the person undergoing treatment.

Before the transplant, the person with the leukaemia or lymphoma is given a higher-than-normal dose of chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells and cells in the bone marrow (where new blood cells are formed). Following this, the healthy stem cells are transplanted.

This is a complex procedure and can have serious side-effects. It requires a long hospital stay and is only carried out in hospitals where staff have experience with the procedure and the recovery phase. It is only used in patients who are otherwise in good health.