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Supportive therapy is an important part of treatment for leukemia. It is given to treat the complications that usually happen with treatments for ALL and the disease itself. These complications can include infection, bleeding and low blood cell counts. Other complications can include changes to the chemical processes in the body, such as breathing, eliminating wastes and toxin and circulating blood as a result of the leukemia or treatment.
Antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals
Infection is a serious complication in people with leukemia. Infections can be caused by the disease itself and its treatments. Different types of drugs are used to treat different types of infections.
Common sites of infection include:
- pharynx, esophagus and sinuses
- anus and rectum
The healthcare team will monitor your blood cell counts during treatment. You will be given replacement therapy with blood transfusions when needed. The types of replacement transfusions used include:
- packed red blood cells
- fresh frozen plasma
- cryoprecipitate (a product that replaces clotting factors)
Find out more about blood transfusions.
Granulocyte colony-stimulating factors (G-CSFs), such as filgrastim (Neupogen) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta), may be used to stimulate the production of white blood cells. This shortens the length of time you will have a low white blood cell count and lowers the risk of infection.
Find out more about colony-stimulating factors.
Treatment for tumour lysis syndrome
The start of chemotherapy causes rapid cell death, which can result in an urgent situation called tumour lysis syndrome. When the cells die, their contents are released into the bloodstream. This creates abnormally high levels of uric acid, potassium and phosphorus.
The following treatments are used to lower the levels of these substances in the blood:
- increased intravenous fluids
- allopurinol (Zyloprim)
- sodium bicarbonate
- rasburicase (Fasturtec)
Find out more about tumour lysis syndrome.
Leukapheresis is a procedure that uses a special machine to remove large numbers of white blood cells from a sample of blood. The blood is then given back to the person. This may be done to lower a very high white blood cell count in people with leukemia.
Questions to ask about treatment
Clinical trial discovery improves quality of life
A clinical trial led by the Society’s NCIC Clinical Trials group found that men with prostate cancer who are treated with intermittent courses of hormone therapy live as long as those receiving continuous therapy.