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Cancer Health Center

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Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview for Childhood ALL

Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) should be cared for at a center with specialized expertise in pediatric cancer.[1] Treatment planning by a multidisciplinary team of pediatric cancer specialists with experience and expertise in treating leukemias of childhood is required to determine and implement optimum treatment.

Treatment of childhood ALL typically involves chemotherapy given for 2 to 3 years. Since myelosuppression and generalized immunosuppression are anticipated consequences of leukemia and chemotherapy treatment, patients must be closely monitored at diagnosis and during treatment.

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Adequate facilities must be immediately available both for hematologic support and for the treatment of infections and other complications throughout all phases of therapy. Approximately 1% to 3% of patients die during induction therapy and another 1% to 3% die during the initial remission from treatment-related complications.[2,3]

Clinical trials are generally available for children with ALL, with specific protocols designed for children at standard (low) risk of treatment failure and for children at higher risk of treatment failure. Clinical trials for children with ALL are generally designed to compare therapy that is currently accepted as standard for a particular risk group with a potentially better treatment approach that may improve survival outcome and/or diminish toxicities associated with the standard treatment regimen. Many of the therapeutic innovations that produced increased survival rates in children with ALL were established through clinical trials, and it is appropriate for children and adolescents with ALL to be offered participation in a clinical trial.

Risk-based treatment assignment is an important therapeutic strategy utilized for children with ALL. This approach allows children who historically have a very good outcome to be treated with less intensive therapy and to be spared more toxic treatments, while allowing children with a historically lower probability of long-term survival to receive stronger therapy that may increase their chance of cure. (Refer to the Risk-based Treatment Assignment section of this summary for more information about a number of clinical and laboratory features that have demonstrated prognostic value.)

Phases of Therapy

Treatment for children with ALL is typically divided as follows:

  1. Remission induction (at the time of diagnosis).
  2. Postinduction therapy (after achieving complete remission).
    • Consolidation/intensification therapy.
    • Maintenance or continuation therapy.
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