Leukemias: Our Approach & Expertise

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers comprehensive cancer care to men and women with leukemia. As part of our strong commitment to providing the latest advances in chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and bone marrow and/or stem cell transplantation, we bring together the expertise and skills of doctors from across many medical disciplines in the treatment of each patient. Our team sees about 350 new patients with leukemia each year.

Multidisciplinary Team Approach

Memorial Sloan Kettering has a longstanding multidisciplinary team approach to providing the best possible treatment for leukemia. Although each patient has a primary doctor who coordinates his or her care, all patients — regardless of the type of treatment they receive — are cared for by a team of experts.

The team includes:

  • hematologic oncologists, who treat cancers that arise from blood cells
  • medical oncologists, who treat cancer with chemotherapy and hormonal and biological therapies
  • bone marrow and stem cell transplant specialists, who treat cancer with high-dose chemotherapy followed by an infusion of healthy bone marrow or stem cells
  • radiation oncologists, who use radiation therapy to shrink tumors
  • surgeons
  • diagnostic radiologists, who use imaging to diagnose diseases
  • pathologists, who identify diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope
  • infectious disease specialists, who treat infections that arise during treatment for cancer
  • nurses (see the Our Nursing Staff section below)

We plan treatment for each patient with input from all members of the team. A collaborative approach such as this one is very important when caring for people with leukemia because many patients require more than one form of treatment. Having a team of specialists working together from the very beginning optimizes patient care.

Our Publications Visit PubMed for journal articles from our leukemia experts Go »

Members of the team meet weekly to review and discuss each patient's treatment plan. Other specialists, including those who provide psychosocial support, help the team meet the nonmedical needs of both patients and their caregivers. These healthcare professionals work together to provide a full spectrum of supportive care.

  • Our Nursing Staff

    At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we have a dedicated team of nurses who specialize in caring for patients with leukemia during outpatient visits and inpatient hospital stays. Each nurse works in collaboration with one primary physician to oversee his or her patients' care. This allows our nurses to assess a patient's needs, triage symptoms, and, if necessary, make referrals to other departments within Memorial Sloan Kettering, such as integrative medicine, nutrition, and social work. Nurses also help patients and their families understand the details of the treatment plan and what to expect throughout the course of treatment, providing educational materials as needed.

    As the liaison between patients and physicians, nurses play an important role in the team approach to care offered at the Center.

Focus on the Patient

The leukemia team at Memorial Sloan Kettering continues to explore ways to improve the lives of all patients with leukemia. For example, investigators here are using emerging information about the genetic basis of leukemia to pursue a variety of strategies to control the disease — approaches that can kill tumor cells directly, that can inhibit the body's production of substances that promote their growth, or that can enhance the immune response against leukemic cells. These initiatives are examples of our commitment to enhance both the length and quality of life of patients with leukemia.

We believe that treating the whole person, not just the disease, is the best way to care for patients and family members coping with leukemia. Our medical staff understands that having leukemia can be overwhelming, and we are always available to help address the needs and concerns of our patients and their family members.

Memorial Sloan Kettering offers a broad range of psychosocial support programs designed to help patients and family members cope with the spectrum of issues related to life during and after treatment. For more information about the support services we offer patients with leukemia, as well as their families and caregivers, visit the Follow-Up Care & Support Services section of our Web site.

New Treatment Advances

Each physician on the leukemia team is also an investigator in his or her field, involved with research studies related to the care of leukemia patients. Our approach to care includes a team-wide discussion of new advances and studies that may be appropriate for certain patients. Physicians may suggest that a patient participate in a clinical trial if they feel there is a good chance for an improved outcome.

Novel Treatments for APL

Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators helped to develop two important, widely used treatments for acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). The first, retinoic acid, is usually used in patients with newly diagnosed disease. The second, arsenic trioxide, has been shown to be useful in some patients with recurrent disease. For more information about APL, visit the AML overview.

Transplantation

For patients with some forms of leukemia, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant may be part of the treatment plan. Learn more about blood and marrow stem cell transplantation.

Multimodal Therapies

Treatment for leukemia may involve chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, or both. Our leukemia experts are also continually working to improve the standards of care through clinical research. We have many clinical trials underway that incorporate innovative treatments for newly diagnosed and relapsed acute and chronic myeloid and lymphocytic leukemias.

Immunotherapy

One area that shows great promise is immunotherapy, which uses the body's immune system to fight cancer. Memorial Sloan Kettering is a leader in using antibodies to target and destroy leukemia cells.(1),(2) Our researchers are also combining human monoclonal antibodies with extremely potent “alpha-emitting” radioisotopes — short-lived radioactive molecules — to kill cancer cells. Memorial Sloan Kettering was among the first to evaluate these biological “smart bombs,” which are precisely targeted and produce few side effects.(3),(4)