How Are Blood Cancers Treated?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Treatment for blood cancer is customized to each person based on several factors. This may include:

  • Type of blood cancer
  • Stage or extent of the cancer
  • How quickly the cancer is growing
  • Genetic mutations that might be present in the cancer cells
  • Age and overall health of the person with cancer

Not every person with blood cancer will have the same treatment. Treatment strategies for blood cancer may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy and immune modulators
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Surgery
  • Watchful waiting

Some people may also receive supportive care treatments to relieve blood cancer symptoms or side effects from other forms of treatment. This can include things like blood transfusions or treatment for infections.

Many people with blood cancer also find complementary therapies helpful. Complementary medicine includes practices that are used along with traditional medicine. Examples include:

  • Dietary supplements
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis

It is important to tell your doctor about any complementary therapies you are practicing. This will help ensure that nothing interferes with your treatment.

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Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to stop cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be used in combination with other drugs or alone. They are taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle.1

Chemotherapy works by targeting fast-growing cells, such as cancer cells. However, there are other fast-growing cells in the body that can also be affected, such as those in the gastrointestinal tract and hair.1

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are cancer treatments that block or slow the spread of cancer. They do this by interfering with specific areas of cancer cells that are involved in the cells' growth or by focusing on specific features that are unique to cancer cells.1

While chemotherapy drugs typically kill cancer cells, targeted therapy drugs typically block the growth of cancer cells. Targeted therapies may be used along with chemotherapy to treat certain types of blood cancer.1


Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that aims to boost the body’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.1

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used as part of standard treatment in some blood cancers that cause masses (such as lymphoma), and for symptom management when cancer cells cause symptoms such as bone fractures. 1,2

Stem cell transplant

Stem cell transplants are sometimes used along with high doses of chemotherapy. The high dose of chemotherapy destroys the cancer cells but it also damages healthy blood cells. Stem cells are then given to restore bone marrow.1

Stem cells are immature cells that can become new blood cells. They may be gathered from the person with cancer before chemotherapy. The cancer cells are filtered out, then the person is given high doses of chemotherapy to get rid of any remaining cancer cells. The person's own healthy stem cells are then given to restore their bone marrow. This is called an autologous transplant.1

Stem cells may also be given by a donor. This is called an allogeneic transplant. During this process, the person with cancer is given chemotherapy and/or radiation to "condition" their bone marrow to accept the donor's stem cells. The donor's stem cells are then given to the person in the hopes that they will recognize and destroy the cancer cells.1


In some cases, a person with blood cancer may have surgery to remove an enlarged spleen. This surgery is called a splenectomy. While this surgery does not cure blood cancer, it can relieve some of the symptoms, such as when an enlarged spleen presses on other organs like the stomach.2

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting may be recommended in certain cases of blood cancer where the person is not experiencing symptoms from their disease and the blood cancer is slow-growing.4

During watchful waiting, the person does not receive treatment for blood cancer. However, problems like infections are treated. A person’s health is closely monitored during watchful waiting. Doctors watch for any changes in condition and symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, or an enlarged spleen.4

New types of blood cancer treatment

There are many standard therapies available to treat the different types of blood cancer. However, researchers are studying new treatments. Some of these treatments are available in clinical trials.

Clinical trials are an important part of the scientific process to find and prove the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. They offer people a chance to receive the latest treatments and be closely monitored by doctors. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, talk to your doctor. They can discuss treatment options with you and help you decide if a clinical trial might be right for you.5