The treatment of childhood AML is done in phases:
- Induction therapy: 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 therapy: This is the second phase of treatment. It begins once the leukemia is in remission. The goal of therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may not be active but could begin to regrow and cause a relapse.
Treatment called central nervous system (CNS) sanctuary therapy may be given during the induction phase of therapy. Because standard doses of chemotherapy may not reach leukemia cells in the CNS (brain and spinal cord), the cells are able to "find sanctuary" (hide) in the CNS. Intrathecal chemotherapy is able to reach leukemia cells in the CNS. It is given to kill the leukemia cells and keep the cancer from recurring (coming back). CNS sanctuary therapy is also called CNS prophylaxis.
Seven types of standard treatment are used for childhood AML, childhood CML, JMML, or MDS.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid (intrathecal chemotherapy), an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug.
The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.
In AML, the leukemia cells may spread to the brain and/or spinal cord. Anticancer drugs given by mouth or vein to treat AML cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to get into the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Instead, an anticancer drug is injected into the fluid-filled space to kill leukemia cells that may have spread there. This is called intrathecal chemotherapy.
Intrathecal chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are injected into the intrathecal space, which is the space that holds the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, shown in blue). There are two different ways to do this. One way, shown in the top part of the figure, is to inject the drugs into an Ommaya reservoir (a dome-shaped container that is placed under the scalp during surgery; it holds the drugs as they flow through a small tube into the brain). The other way, shown in the bottom part of the figure, is to inject the drugs directly into the CSF in the lower part of the spinal column, after a small area on the lower back is numbed.