Fortunately, cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence of childhood cancer, including ALL, has been slowly increasing since 1975. Children and adolescents with cancer should be referred to medical centers that have a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists with experience treating the cancers that occur during childhood and adolescence. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life:
- Primary care physician.
- Pediatric surgical subspecialists.
- Radiation oncologists.
- Pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists.
- Rehabilitation specialists.
- Pediatric nurse specialists.
- Social workers.
- Child life professionals.
(Refer to the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care summaries for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)
Guidelines for cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because treatment of children with ALL entails complicated risk assignment and therapies and the need for intensive supportive care (e.g., transfusions; management of infectious complications; and emotional, financial, and developmental support), evaluation and treatment are best coordinated by pediatric oncologists in cancer centers or hospitals with all of the necessary pediatric supportive care facilities. It is important that the clinical centers and the specialists directing the patient's care maintain contact with the referring physician in the community. Strong lines of communication optimize any urgent or interim care required when the child is at home.
Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved in children and adolescents with cancer.[1,3,4] Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%.[3,4] For ALL, the 5-year survival rate has increased over the same time from 60% to approximately 90% for children younger than 15 years and from 28% to approximately 70% for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.[1,3,4,5] Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close follow-up because cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)