On rare occasions, leukapheresis can be used to diagnose chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) when very large numbers of white blood cells (WBC) cause the blood to thicken and cause medical problems. Under these circumstances, leukapheresis can be an important treatment.
What Is Leukapheresis?
Leukapheresis is a procedure in which WBCs are separated from blood in a laboratory. This process is used to reduce a very high WBC count. It is also used to obtain blood cells from a patient.
What to Expect
A very large number of leukemia cells in the blood can lead to problems with normal circulation. This can lead to heart problems and having difficulty breathing. Chemotherapy will not immediately reduce the number of WBCs present, so leukapheresis may be necessary before chemotherapy to avoid potential health problems. Your blood is removed from your body through one needle, treated, and returned to your body through another needle.
The procedure can take several hours to complete. It is not painful, but it has been known to cause tingling and may cause muscle spasms in extreme cases. However, this condition can be treated with calcium. Oftentimes, you will be given a heated blanket so that you are comfortable throughout the procedure. To prepare yourself for leukapheresis, make sure to drink plenty of fluids that do not contain caffeine. Eat a hearty meal before the procedure. You will be instructed on the type of clothing you should wear to prepare for the procedure.
Treatments Used in Combination With Leukapheresis
This treatment can reduce the number of leukemia cells in the body. However, these cells will rise again if you do not undergo chemotherapy to treat CLL. Therefore, this is a necessary addition to your CLL treatment, but it must be used in combination with other treatment methods.
CLL progresses very slowly, and you may not need treatment immediately. Chemotherapy is the main method by which CLL is treated, but there are several other treatments that can fight CLL. For example, monoclonal antibodies can help your body's immune system target cancer cells. This treatment is usually used in combination with chemotherapy to fight CLL.
Targeted therapy drugs target cells that would become cancerous and inhibit the changes that lead to the cells making this transformation. This is considered one of the first lines of treatment. For example, one of the targeted therapies is kinase inhibitors. The kinase is a protein that tells a cancerous cell to grow.