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Reasons for Optimism and Hope 

Have Survival Rates Been Improving?

Survival rates have been dramatically improving, primarily because of:

  • Multi-drug therapies that are more effective than treatments with single anti-cancer agents
  • Bone marrow/stem cell transplants and supportive care treatments for patients who relapse despite the best available therapy
  • Tests that distinguish specific characteristics of particular blood cancers for accurate diagnosis of cancer sub-types, and for risk assessment to select an optimal therapy.

Areas of research that hold promise for patients are:

  • Novel Stem Cell Transplant Procedures: These include so-called “mini” transplants that use less toxic pre-transplant treatments and engineered donor cells that help reduce post-transplant complications. The result is potentially curative treatments available to more patients.
  • Immunotherapies: Including antibodies, vaccines and engineered immune cells. These targeted therapies help a patient’s immune system fight infections and kill residual cancer cells, prolonging remissions, and perhaps one day replacing toxic chemotherapies.
  • Diagnostics: New technologies make it possible to characterize the abnormalities in individual cancer cases in molecular detail. This information can be used to help choose the best possible treatment for each patient, especially as more targeted therapies become available.
  • Quality of Life Research: These studies increase our understanding of how specific treatments can cause debilitating side effects including late-effects. They also help identify which patients are at risk for developing these complications so that they can be better managed or even prevented.

What do the Numbers Say?

The 5-year survival rate from the year of leukemia diagnosis has been improving exponentially as shown by these figures:

5-Year Survival From Year of Leukemia Diagnosis
                              Year of                 5-Year Survival
                            Diagnosis                       Rate

                             1960-63                         14%
                             1975-77                         34%
                            2001-07                         57%

                   Source: SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results)
                                   Cancer Statistics Review, National Cancer Institute

Are Treatment Options Increasing?


Treatment options are increasing, however they are dependent on the type of leukemia you have. Your oncologist/hematologist will be aware of all treatment options available to you.

Is Leukemia an Active Area for Medical Research?

Yes, the pharmaceutical industry and academic research centers in Canada and the US, as well as fundraising organizations like Imagine a Cure for Leukemia continue to look for and finance effective and safe treatment. (see Clinical Trials)

What are Some Examples of Recent Innovations?


  • Gleevec: A Revolutionary Drug
    Since its approval in 2001, Gleevec® has become a standard first-line therapy for newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients. This groundbreaking treatment has nearly doubled the survival rate for people with CML to 95 percent.
  • Sprycel and Tasigna: More Good News for CML Patients
    Sprycel® and Tasigna® are newer drugs for people who do not respond to Gleevec or who are intolerant of certain side-effects. Along with Gleevec they're helping chronic phase CML patients survive many years with good quality of life.
  • Rituxan: More Effective Chemotherapy
    In 2001, researchers found that Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody (see Quick Intro. to Blood Chemistry) improved chemotherapy effectiveness for people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
  • Engineering our Own Immune System to Kill Leukemia Cells
    In 2011, a medical breakthrough in the treatment of leukemia was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research team accomplished three things that had never been done before:
    1. They engineered the body’s own immune system (T-cells) to fight and kill leukemia cells. 

    2. They programmed them to multiply inside the body and form an even larger army of cancer cell destroyers, and 

    3. They were able to leave a set of memory T-cells in the blood stream capable of killing leukemia cells if they showed up again.


Within the small sample of patients given this experimental treatment, two who had an incurable form of the disease now appear to be leukemia free. These results were startling!

In October, 2011 Imagine a Cure for Leukemia stepped forward and granted $135,000 to help keep this promising research project moving forward. With the help of our contribution, clinical tests will now be expanded. This year the therapy will be used to treat children with an acute form of the disease (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia).




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