Treating acute leukaemia usually calls for intensive chemotherapy and, for a large proportion of adult patients, a bone marrow transplant.
In recent years however, advances in medical science has allowed doctors to better diagnose specific types of leukaemia. This allows them to utilise medicines, known as targeted therapies, which can effectively hone in, target and destroy leukaemia cells.
“In acute leukaemia, targeted therapy can be used to salvage patients who have failed chemotherapy. In chronic leukaemia, targeted therapies can actually replace conventional chemotherapy”, says Dr Collin Phipps Diong, Senior Consultant in Haematology at Parkway Cancer Centre.
Targeted Therapies for Acute Leukaemia
Acute leukaemia refers to a strain of blood and bone marrow cancer that is more aggressive, with cancer cells that are still immature. This, along with chronic leukaemia, which develops slowly and consists of more mature cells, are the two main types of the disease.
Even though treatment of acute leukaemia is still heavily reliant on chemotherapy, there are now targeted therapies that can be combined with chemotherapy.
These come in the form of monoclonal antibodies, that recognise proteins on various types of acute leukaemia cells and hone in to deliver high doses of chemicals into the cells.
“There are also medicines which can be consumed in tablet form, that go into the leukaemia cell and modify its behaviour, ultimately killing it from within”, adds Dr Diong.
Improving Treatment Options
Beyond targeted therapies, Singapore is anticipating the arrival of CAR-T cell treatment. “CAR-T cells are engineered by taking immune cells from the patient and arming them to recognise and kill leukaemia cells”, explains Dr Diong.
Along with new treatment methods, medical advances have also improved conventional bone marrow transplantation, used nowadays only to treat acute leukaemia.
Today, suitable bone marrow donors are more easily identifiable through matches found in cord blood as well as unrelated or even donors with only half matches.
Patients also have improved supportive measures and treatment of infections from operations. “This has improved the survival rates of transplant patients”, says Dr Diong.
Better diagnosis through various blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy also allows doctors to pinpoint the sub-type of the disease and recommend appropriate treatment solutions.
But for now, the bright spark for leukaemia patients remains targeted therapy.
According to Dr Diong, this can mean chemotherapy-free treatment and a potentially better quality of life during a patient’s treatment journey.
“(With targeted therapies) patients don’t have to suffer the toxic effects of chemotherapy. Even elderly patients are able to take these treatments.”
Produced in partnership with Parkway Cancer Centre