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What is the treatment for leukemia in the elderly?

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Quick Answer

Treatment of leukemia in patients over age 60 is highly dependent upon the patient’s health, but if the patient is otherwise healthy, his treatment options include chemotherapy. Otherwise healthy patients may require less intense therapy than younger patients. Patients who are much older or in frail health are sometimes unable to tolerate treatments and may receive supportive care instead, according to the American Cancer Society.

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Full Answer

Because the increase in leukocytes in the blood can interfere with circulation, some patients receive leukapheresis. This treatment helps to reduce the leukocytes before chemotherapy begins to work. Patients have one intravenous line from which the device draws blood and a second IV for return of treated blood to the body. The machine filters all the white blood cells and returns the rest of the blood to the patient, reports the American Cancer Society.

Patients who tolerate chemotherapy receive it in induction and post-remission phases. The type of chemotherapy the doctor chooses depends on the patient’s heart health, as some drugs are not appropriate with heart-function problems. If the disease spreads to the brain or spinal cord, the doctor may also recommend radiation therapy, indicates the American Cancer Society.

In patients who do not receive chemotherapy, care focuses on treating symptoms and complications of the disease while keeping the patient as comfortable as possible, according to the American Cancer Society. With some of these patients, chemotherapy may actually shorten their lives.

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