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Biological therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

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This page tells you about biological therapies for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Biological therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

Biological therapies are treatments that use natural substances from the body, or drugs made from these substances. The body normally uses these natural substances to fight infection and disease.

Biological therapies and ALL

The main biological therapies used for ALL are tyrosine kinase inhibitors or TKIs. They block tyrosine kinases, which are chemicals that cells use to signal to each other. Some of these signalling systems tell the cancer cells to grow and divide.

Imatinib mesilate (Glivec) is a TKI drug which is used to treat Philadelphia positive ALL. You may have it with chemotherapy as part of your first phase of treatment (remission induction therapy). Researchers are also looking at other types of TKIs to treat ALL, including dasatinib.

Side effects of biological therapies

All treatments have side effects. Everyone reacts differently to drugs and not everyone will get every side effect. The main side effects of TKIs are

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin changes (rashes, reddening or darkening of the skin)
  • A sore mouth
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating ALL section.
 

 

What biological therapies are

Biological therapies are treatments that use natural substances from the body, or drugs made from these substances. The body normally uses these natural substances to fight infection and disease. Biological therapies encourage the body to

  • Attack cancer cells
  • Overcome side effects caused by other cancer treatments

You may hear them called targeted therapies. There are many different types of biological therapy.

 

Biological therapies and ALL

The main biological therapies used for ALL are tyrosine kinase inhibitors or TKIs. They block tyrosine kinases, which are chemicals cells use to signal to each other. Some of these signalling systems tell the cancer cells to grow and divide.

Imatinib mesilate (Glivec) is a TKI drug which is often used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). It is now also used to treat Philadelphia chromosome positive ALL. About 2 out of 10 adults with ALL (20%) and 1 in 20 children with ALL (5%) have the Philadelphia chromosome.

Research studies show that having imatinib as part of your first phase of treatment (remission induction therapy) improves your chances of getting into remission. Once in remission you are likely to have a bone marrow transplant as long as you are well enough and a suitable donor has been found.

Researchers are continuing to look at imatinib as well as other types of TKIs to treat ALL, including dasatinib. There is more information in the section on ALL research.

 

Side effects of biological therapies

All treatments have side effects. Everyone reacts differently to drugs and not everyone will get every side effect. The main side effects of TKIs are

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin changes (rashes or reddening or darkening)
  • A sore mouth
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite

Tell your doctor if you have any of these – there may be medicines that can help.

 

Where to find more information

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Updated: 12 May 2015