Why is chemotherapy used to treat leukopenia

Concomitant treatment

Leukemia is usually treated with chemotherapy, sometimes in combination with radiation. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that these measures will also lead to undesirable side effects. Therefore, leukemia patients receive additional supportive treatment that prevents or alleviates the side effects of tumor therapy and the consequences of leukemia and improves the patients' quality of life.

Supportive treatment (supportive therapy) plays an indispensable role in the treatment of leukemia. Because chemotherapy and radiation therapy not only destroy the leukemic blasts, they also damage healthy cells. This particularly affects the rapidly growing cells of the hair roots, the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract and the bladder. As a result, various side effects occur that can be treated and mitigated by supportive measures. The accompanying treatment also helps to avert the symptoms that are caused by the leukemia itself. The focus of supportive therapy is the treatment of

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Infections
  • Anemia
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Pain

In individual cases, supportive therapy can include the administration of antibiotics, medication for fungal infections, medication for pain relief, transfusions of red blood cells (erythrocytes) or blood platelets (thrombocytes).

Treatment of nausea and vomiting (nausea, vomiting)

Side effects in the gastrointestinal tract often occur in direct temporal relation to chemotherapy or whole-body radiation. Nausea and vomiting in particular are often feared. It is therefore important to know that this side effect can be prevented in almost all cases by using very effective drugs - so-called antiemetics - before and after therapy.

Treatment and prevention of infections

Due to the bone marrow-damaging effect of chemotherapy or as a symptom of leukemia itself, a (temporary) deterioration in blood values ​​can often be observed. The lack of white blood cells (leukopenia) increases the risk of infection. If left untreated, infection can be a life-threatening complication. During and after chemotherapy, the body's own messenger substance G-CSF is used, which is supposed to accelerate the formation of new white blood cells (granulocytes) in order to shorten the period of leukopenia. The use of antibiotics is a very important and indispensable means to prevent infections with bacteria or to fight an existing infection. If a fungal infection is suspected, drugs to combat fungal infections (antimycotics) are used at an early stage. Another preventive measure to reduce the risk of infection is the temporary placement of patients in low-germ isolation rooms with special air filtration. Patients and their relatives can also help reduce the risk of infection themselves. It is therefore very important that the patient is fully informed about rules of conduct, e.g. with regard to personal hygiene (including oral hygiene), nutrition and behavior in contact with others. Fever, chills, cough or diarrhea can be signs of infection and should be reported to the treating doctor immediately.

Treatment of anemia and bleeding disorders

In addition to leukopenia, there is often a lack of red blood cells (anemia) or blood platelets (thrombocytopenia), which can be counteracted by administering blood products (transfusion of red blood cell and platelet concentrates).

Further supportive measures

Chemotherapy can lead to inflammation of the lining of the mouth (mucositis) and the lining of the intestine. The result is painful ulcers that cause pain when eating and diarrhea. Antiseptic mouthwashes are recommended for oral prevention. The patient should avoid brushing their teeth, especially in the phase of disturbed blood formation, as bleeding gums can cause germs to enter the blood via the mouth and thus lead to an infection.
Other medications can be given to prevent kidney damage from the disintegrating leukemia cells. For individual cytostatics, special rules for supportive therapy must be observed.

Created by: Hehn (Information Center) on July 25, 2014, last change: March 31, 2015


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