Will Blood Cancer Go Away?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2018
Treatment for blood cancer can take many years, and in some cases, a cure or remission isn’t possible but treatment can keep the cancer controlled or managed. In these cases, blood cancer is a chronic condition, one that lasts a long time or may be ongoing. Managing chronic conditions can be challenging physically, emotionally, and financially.
What does it mean to have a chronic blood cancer?
For some people, treatment for their type of blood cancer puts their disease into complete remission, in which there are no signs or symptoms of the disease. Some blood cancers may come back after remission, which is considered a relapse or recurrence. Other people never experience remission, and their blood cancer may be called refractory.1
Some doctors use the term “controlled” to describe a blood cancer that isn’t getting worse or spreading as long as treatment is being given. Another term for a cancer that is controlled with treatment is “stable.”1
If a blood cancer doesn’t respond to a treatment, it means that the treatment didn’t kill the cancer cells or the cancer cells adapted to be resistant to the treatment. The disease is considered to have progressed, and different treatment may be needed.1
What are the treatment options?
Treatment options for recurring or relapsed blood cancer may be different than the first time. Some people with recurring blood cancer may have the same type of treatment (like chemotherapy), but the specific medications may change. Other treatments may not work as well a second time. The type of treatment you receive for a chronic cancer will depend on several factors, including the type and extent of your blood cancer, your overall health, and your personal preferences.1
It can be helpful to get a second opinion, like at a comprehensive cancer center, or consider a clinical trial. Comprehensive cancer centers are research centers that have the support of the National Cancer Institute. They provide care to people with cancer and take part in clinical trials. Clinical trials are an important part of the scientific process to find and prove the safety and effectiveness of new treatments, and they offer patients a chance to receive the latest treatments and be closely monitored by healthcare professionals. Clinical trials can be found by talking to a doctor or through the website ClinicalTrials.gov. Patients can discuss treatment options with their doctor to determine if they might be eligible to participate in a clinical trial.2,3
What are the treatment goals for chronic blood cancers?
Initial goals for treatment for any type of blood cancer is typically complete remission, however, that is not always possible in all cases. If remission or cure isn’t possible, it can be helpful to have a discussion with your doctor about your goals and what to expect from a proposed treatment. Your goals may include:
- Having the fewest possible side effects from cancer
- Having the fewest possible side effects from the treatment
- Having a good quality of life (and what that means to you)
- Having the longest life possible4
There may come a point at which additional treatment is damaging the quality of your life and keeping you from enjoying what time you have. Each person must weigh for themselves if the benefits outweigh the side effects of the treatment. For people who decide to stop treatment, or for whom treatment is no longer helping control their cancer, palliative care can provide physical and emotional symptom relief to ease symptoms like pain or fatigue.1
Having a recurrence, or repeated recurrences, of a blood cancer can be discouraging and stressful. Many people find that support is a critical need, and support can be found in many ways, including family and friends, professional counseling, faith groups, in-person support groups, or online support communities.1