Blood cancer: treatment aims
Treatment for blood cancer can be given for various reasons.
For many people diagnosed with a blood cancer, the aim of treatment will be to cure the cancer. This means there is no sign of any cancer left. This is called a complete remission.
It’s also possible to have a partial remission, if there are only small numbers of cancer cells left.
What is refractory blood cancer?
If the cancer does not respond to a treatment, or comes back quite soon after finishing treatment, it’s called refractory. There are usually other treatments that can be tried.
What is relapse?
Sometimes, a remission is achieved but the blood cancer comes back some time later. If a blood cancer comes back, it’s called a relapse. There are usually other treatments that can be tried to achieve remission again.
Managing a chronic blood cancer
Some blood cancers are chronic and cannot be cured, but can be managed with ongoing treatment. The aim of treatment in this case is to keep the cancer at a low level, or achieve a remission for a period of time. For many people, blood cancer does not shorten their life, and regular medication or treatments keep them stable. If the cancer begins to progress, you may need more intensive treatment to get it back under control.
Supportive care means treatments that are not actually treating the cancer, but are treating the symptoms and side effects of the cancer or its treatment. You may need to have aspects of supportive care alongside your main treatment. Examples of supportive care are:
- Blood transfusions: if you have low levels of any type of blood cell due to the cancer or its treatment
- Antibiotics, anti-viral medicines or anti-fungal treatments: if you are at higher risk of infection, or if you have an infection.
If treatment stops working
Unfortunately, sometimes blood cancer can progress to a stage where the person becomes more unwell, and it’s not possible to get rid of the cancer. There are still treatment options available in this case to try to slow down the progression of the cancer. Some people choose to stop having active treatment.
When treatment is given to manage symptoms and make someone more comfortable, it’s called palliative care. Palliative care is not only used at the end of life – it may be given earlier to help manage symptoms.
Our research impact
Over 60 years, we've invested more than £500 million in blood cancer research. This has led to a long line of breakthroughs that have improved treatments and saved lives. Read about our research impact on blood cancer.
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