There are many possible treatments for blood cancer. You might hear the following terms or phrases used to describe treatment for blood cancer:
Intensive treatment / high-intensity treatment
Intensive treatment means strong treatments. For blood cancer, this often means using strong drugs to try and kill cancer cells or stop them from spreading. The main types of intensive treatment for blood cancer are:
Standard-dose or high-dose chemotherapy: using cell-killing drugs with the aim of killing cancerous cells and stopping them from multiplying.
Stem cell transplant: having high doses of chemotherapy to kill the abnormal cells in your bone marrow or lymph nodes, then receiving new blood stem cells (either your own or from a donor) through a drip. The aim is for these new stem cells to start producing healthy blood cells.
- Order or download our booklet Seven steps: blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants for more information on stem cell transplants.
Some types of biological therapy / immunotherapies / monoclonal antibodies: drugs that encourage your immune system to fight cancerous cells.
Radiotherapy: using high energy rays to kill cancer cells in a particular area (mostly used to treat lymphoma).
Surgery: rarely, you may be offered a splenectomy (having your spleen removed).
While some of these treatments offer the opportunity to control or cure blood cancer, many of them are associated with shorter and longer term side effects.
Non-intensive / low-intensity treatment
Non-intensive treatments such as lower-dose chemotherapy are usually gentler and cause fewer side effects. In most cases these treatments won’t cure the cancer but they may help to keep you in remission or manage your symptoms for a good length of time. Types of lower intensity treatment for blood cancer include:
Low-dose chemotherapy: using cell-killing drugs with the aim of killing cancerous cells and stopping them from multiplying.
Some biological therapies / immunotherapies / monoclonal antibodies: drugs that encourage your immune system to fight cancerous cells.
These gentler treatments may be used over a longer period of time to keep cancer under control.
This means treatment that aims to cure blood cancer.
If your medical team feel that you are unlikely to cope with strong treatments they may offer you some gentler non-curative treatments which may be able to give you a good quality of life and better prognosis (outlook) with fewer risks or side effects.
This means treatment that aims to reduce blood cancer, keep you in remission, or manage your symptoms – rather than curing the cancer. Non-curative treatment can be strong (intensive / high intensity) or more gentle (less intensive / lower-intensity).
> Talk to your healthcare team or see our treatment decisions fact sheet for more information.
Watch and wait
One type of treatment for some people with certain types of slow-developing blood cancer is called watch and wait (you may also hear it called 'watchful waiting' or 'active surveillance'). This means you won’t start treatment straight away, but you’ll have regular blood tests and appointments where you’ll be monitored closely for any changes. You’ll only start treatment – usually low or standard dose chemotherapy – if and when you need it.
> Find out more about watch and wait
People having intensive or non-intensive treatment will have supportive care alongside this. Supportive care means treatments that don’t directly fight cancer but will help manage your symptoms and help you feel better. For example, you may have blood transfusions for anaemia, antibiotics to prevent or treat an infection, or drugs to help manage any side effects of chemotherapy such as mucositis.
Palliative care means care or treatment that you have to help with your symptoms. It aims to give you a good quality of life and look after your emotional and physical well-being. Palliative care isn’t just available at the end of life. You might be offered palliative care earlier, while you’re still having other treatments.
> Read more about palliative care on the Marie Curie website
The aim of follow-up is to look out for signs of relapse and treatment complications and make sure you get the right treatment if and when you need it.
Find out more
Our treatment decisions fact sheet is designed to help you understand the types of treatments available, what choices you’ll be asked to make, and who can make treatment decisions.
> Download this fact sheet