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Cancer Health Center

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Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Different types of treatment are available for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.

Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Children with ALL should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors with expertise in treating childhood leukemia.

Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health professionals who are experts in treating children with leukemia and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include the following specialists:

  • Pediatrician.
  • Hematologist.
  • Medical oncologist.
  • Pediatric surgeon.
  • Radiation oncologist.
  • Neurologist.
  • Pathologist.
  • Radiologist.
  • Pediatric nurse specialist.
  • Social worker.
  • Rehabilitation specialist.
  • Psychologist.
  • Child-life specialist.

Regular follow-up exams are very important. Treatment can cause side effects long after it has ended. These are called late effects. Radiation therapy to the brain may cause changes in mood, feelings, thinking, learning, or memory. Children younger than 4 years have a higher risk of side effects from radiation therapy to the brain.

Late effects of treatment for ALL also include the risk of second cancers (new types of cancer), especially brain tumors.

Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the possible late effects caused by some treatments. See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer.

The treatment of childhood ALL usually has three phases.

The treatment of childhood ALL is done in phases:

  • Remission induction: This is the first phase of treatment. The goal is to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow. This puts the leukemia into remission.
  • Consolidation /intensification: This is the second phase of treatment. It begins once the leukemia is in remission. The goal of consolidation/intensification therapy is to kill any leukemia cells that remain in the body and may cause a relapse.
  • Maintenance: This is the third phase of treatment. The goal is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may regrow and cause a relapse. Often the cancer treatments are given in lower doses than those used during the remission induction and consolidation/intensification phases. Not taking medication as ordered by the doctor during maintenance therapy increases the chance the cancer will come back. This is also called the continuation therapy phase.
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