In general, cure and remission rates of leukemia continue to improve for both children and adults.
Specific treatment depends on the type of disease, severity, and symptoms. The goals of treatment are to address the cell shortages that are causing symptoms, push the leukemia into remission, and, if possible, kill all of the abnormal white blood cells — allowing normal cells to reproduce and restore blood cell function.
Symptomatic treatment may include red blood cell and/or platelet transfusions and antibiotic therapy. If the spleen is too swollen, it may need to be surgically removed. Treatment of the leukemia may include chemotherapy drugs and radiation — both to kill cells and to relieve pain. If leukemia cells have migrated into the cerebrospinal fluid, chemotherapy drugs that are injected directly into the spinal fluid may be required.
In some cases, bone marrow samples may be taken from the affected person, "cleaned" of abnormal cells, and frozen to be reintroduced into the same person following treatment. Allogeneic bone marrow transplants (using a marrow sample from a compatible donor — most frequently a family member) can be used to cure many cases of acute leukemia. Bone marrow transplants may be considered when other treatment regimens have failed to push the leukemia into remission, or when the leukemia has recurred.
Treatment and prognosis of chronic leukemia depend upon which type someone has: chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Researchers are continuing to investigate new therapies that may be useful in achieving remission and prolonging life. People with CML are now generally treated with newly developed tyrosine kinase inhibitors (for example, Gleevec). People with CLL may not need treatment for years, or not until the number of RBCs or platelets decreases. In addition, some therapies are associated with severe side effects that are worse than the person's symptoms.