More than 85 percent of children with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) survive at least five years after their cancer is diagnosed, and many live much longer. The cure rate for ALL ranges from about 60 percent to 95 percent depending on factors such as the type of the leukemia, the extent at the time of diagnosis and the child’s age.
About 40 percent to 50 percent of children with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) are cured with standard chemotherapy. The rate is higher, at least 70 percent, for children who receive a bone marrow transplant from a brother or sister. As doctors find more successful treatments through clinical trials, the prognosis for children with leukemia will continue to improve.
The most common treatments for childhood leukemia are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and bone marrow (hematopoietic stem cell) transplant, all of which are offered through Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) and Seattle Children’s, an SCCA parent organization.
Bone Marrow Transplant
If your child or teen needs a bone marrow transplant, SCCA is the best place for this life-saving treatment. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center pioneered the use of bone marrow transplantation to treat leukemia more than 40 years ago. The Fred Hutchinson Transplant Program at SCCA was ranked first in outcomes in a multi-year study conducted by the National Marrow Donor Program that measured one-year survival rates of patients at 122 transplant centers in the United States.1
Phases of Treatment
Your child’s doctor and healthcare team will recommend a treatment plan for your child based on the type of leukemia your child has, your child’s age and other aspects of your child’s health.
Typically, children with leukemia go through three phases of treatment:
- The first phase is called the induction phase. Treatment during this phase is designed to kill the leukemic cells in the blood and the bone marrow, putting the disease in remission. Children with either ALL or AML go through an induction phase. For most children with ALL, this phase takes about one month of treatment. For those with AML, induction usually takes a few months.
- The second phase is called the consolidation/intensification phase. Treatment during this phase is designed to kill remaining leukemic cells that may be inactive but could begin growing again and cause the leukemia to recur. Children with either ALL or AML go through a consolidation/intensification phase, which usually lasts several months.
- The third phase is called the maintenance phase. During this phase, treatment is continued to kill any remaining cells that could cause a recurrence, but often at lower doses. Children with ALL go through maintenance treatment, usually for two to three years. This phase does not apply to AML because research has found it is not effective.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
Standard treatment for ALL is combination chemotherapy (using multiple drugs). Radiation therapy to the brain, spinal cord or testicles is sometimes used if the cancer has spread or there is a high risk that it may spread to those areas. Researchers are studying the use of bone marrow transplants in children with very high-risk and recurrent ALL, as well as new combinations of chemotherapy drugs. Seattle Children’s and SCCA participate in many research trials investigating new drugs and stem cell transplants.
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
Standard treatment for AML is combination chemotherapy (using multiple drugs). Because AML is often more difficult to treat, doctors often consider giving a bone marrow transplant during a remission or for a recurrence of the disease. New treatments for AML are being researched, and doctors may recommend these treatments if your child’s AML comes back after the initial round of treatment.
Most children with leukemia or other types of cancer are treated through clinical studies. Read the section about participating in a study, which explains more about clinical studies and provides links to further information that may help you consider this option for your child.
More About Treatment Options
If your child has leukemia, your child’s doctors will recommend a combination of therapies. These can include chemotherapy.
If your child’s leukemia has spread or may spread to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) or to the testicles, your child’s doctors may recommend radiation therapy in addition to chemotherapy.
Researchers are working to find more effective treatments for children with leukemia.
Many families consider using complementary and integrative medicine as part of a child’s care during cancer treatment.