There are two basic routes to take in treating the various leukemias.
1.) Chemotherapy, which is the default treatment mode. These drugs can beat back the cancerous white blood cells, but only for a while. And they have serious side effects, so the quality of life while on them can range from tolerable to very bad.
Another drawback of chemo drugs is that at some point, patients will most likely relapse. In other words, the drugs can slow down the progress of the disease – sometimes very dramatically – but rarely do they wipe out every single cancer cell (i.e., a total cure).
2.) A blood stem cell transplant (SCT). These used to be called bone marrow transplants, but now the blood stem cells in bone marrow are also being collected from umbilical cords and from the circulating blood of donors.
To prepare for an SCT, the patient gets a VERY, VERY high dose of chemo – so high that it wipes out your entire immune system. Then, the patient receives the donated blood stem cells to restore his/her immune system.
The drawback is that the intense pre-transplant chemo can kill you. But if it works, you get a whole new blood-manufacturing mecanism functioning in your bone marrow – one that is no longer making cancerous white blood cells.
At age 60, your FIL may not have the physical strength to tolerate the intense prep required for an SCT. How is his health otherwise? Is he a smoker, a heavy drinker? (Weak organ function is one factor that cause doctors to NOT want to perform an SCT.)
On the other hand, if your FIL has the body of a 45-50 year old, he may be a fine candidate for an SCT. And, he may qualify for a “mini-transplant” which is one that uses less rigorous pre-transplant chemo. (Doctors call these non-myeloablative transplants – so do your Internet searching on both terms.)
Getting an SCT also depends highly on finding a matching donor. Your FIL should get himself and his immediate family members tissue typed. If he has a family member with the same (or VERY close) tissue type, that person can be a donor.
If no matching family member is found, you can search the volunteer donor registry maintained by the National Marrow Donor Program (my employer).
I hope your FIL is being seen by a Hematologist at an institution that has a stem cell transplant program. That way, he can hear the full range of options available to him.
I wish you the best of luck.
P.S. A good patient resource is BMT InfoNet.