Leukemia Treatment and Survival Rate

April 19, 2024 
This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Guido Marcucci, M.D., Chair, Department of Hematologic Malignancies Translational Science, City of Hope Duarte

Leukemia, a type of bone marrow and blood cancer, has several treatment options that can be tailored to each patient. Treatment plans are personalized based on a number of factors, including the patient’s type of leukemia, health and preferences. This guide aims to help patients and their families learn more about leukemia treatments and survival rates.

Treatments for Leukemia

Leukemia treatments are designed to provide patient-specific care, so each treatment plan is likely to be unique. Here are some of the most commonly used treatments for leukemia.

Active Surveillance

Also called watchful waiting, this is the process of closely observing a patient’s cancer and waiting to see if it changes before starting treatment. This option is typically recommended for slow-growing, non-aggressive types of leukemia.

Drug Therapy

The various treatment approaches listed below use medication to help destroy cancer cells or stop their growth.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy medications assist the body’s immune system so that it is more able to destroy cancer cells.

Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy drugs aim to identify and destroy specific types of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy treatments are oral, infused or injected medications that work to stop fast-growing cancer cells from multiplying.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses focused, high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to destroy cancer cells. It may be used to target cancer cells in a particular area of the body, or to help destroy cancer cells prior to a stem cell transplant. It may also be used for pain management.

Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation

Bone marrow and stem cell transplants replenish healthy cells in the bone marrow after high doses of chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation, are used to destroy cancer cells and other damaged cells. After these high-intensity treatments, patients are infused with blood stem cells that will grow and mature in the bone marrow, restoring their blood-forming functions.

The stem cells may come from another donor (an allogeneic transplant) or the patient’s own cells (an autologous transplant).

These treatments may be used on their own or combined with others. A patient’s health care team is able to provide more detail on each treatment type. Leukemia treatments may be long in duration, sometimes continuing for several years, so patients may benefit from having a support system in place to help them throughout the process.

Leukemia Survival Rate

Discussing prognosis for leukemia helps patients understand their condition and make treatment decisions. Prognosis may include information on five-year relative survival rates. This represents the percentage of patients who are alive at least five years after their initial diagnosis compared to people without that cancer type, based on past available data.

For leukemia, the five-year relative survival rate is 66.7%, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, this number doesn’t tell the whole story, as survival rates vary by specific cancer type, and each patient’s health circumstances are unique.

As research leads to new treatment options, survival rates continue to improve.

Read more to learn about leukemia treatment and survival by type:

  • National Cancer Institute (2024, January 19). Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. 

  • American Cancer Society (2021, October 8). Typical Treatment of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). 

  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (2020, March). Understanding Statistics Used to Guide Prognosis and Evaluate Treatment./em> 

  • National Cancer Institute. Cancer Stat Facts: Leukemia.