Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Do people with leukemia need chemotherapy?"
Is chemotherapy always involved? I don't want to lose my hair. I'm a 40 year old female and work in a very male dominated workplace. I don't want them to think of me as weak.
The answer to this question depends on a few factors. The most important factor is what type leukemia you have. There are 4 general classes of leukemia, two are acute and two are chronic. The two acute leukemias are called acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). These two types of leukemia need to be treated with aggressive chemotherapy. This is because they are very aggressive forms, and can make that patient very sick very quickly. While not all types of chemotherapy cause hair loss, the medications used in these two illness probably will. The other two types are called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). These are slower growing cancers that are treated differently than the acute versions. CLL is rare in someone your age (usually much older patients). Thus, treatment is often watchful waiting without medication. CML in its early stages is treated today with drugs that have much fewer side effects and often do not result in hair loss. I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your hematologist/oncologist. He or she will be able to explain which type of leukemia you have, and what treatment methods are best for you. In addition, you can discuss side effects of the medication including hair loss.
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