Childhood leukemia

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Treatments for childhood leukemia

If your child has leukemia, the healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for your child. It will be based on your child’s health and specific information about the leukemia. When deciding which treatments to offer for childhood leukemia, the healthcare team will consider:

  • the type and subtype of leukemia
  • chromosome and gene changes within the leukemia cells
  • response to treatment
  • whether there are leukemia cells in the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS)
  • the prognostic factors
  • the risk group
  • your child’s age
  • your child’s overall health

The following is general information about treatments offered for childhood leukemia. Find out more about treatments for childhood ALL and treatments for childhood AML.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for childhood leukemia. It is also given to prevent or treat the spread of leukemia to the CNS. Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Find out more about chemotherapy for childhood leukemia.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is sometimes used to treat certain subtypes of childhood leukemia or leukemia that doesn’t respond to other treatments or comes back after treatment. Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on or inside cancer cells to stop the growth and spread of cancer and limit harm to normal cells.

Find out more about targeted therapy for childhood leukemia.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is sometimes used to treat certain subtypes of childhood leukemia or leukemia that doesn’t respond to other treatments or comes back after treatment. Immunotherapy helps strengthen or restore the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

Find out more about immunotherapy for childhood leukemia.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat childhood leukemia, especially when it spreads to the brain or spinal cord and doesn’t respond to other treatments. Doctors usually use radiation therapy to treat leukemia only when it doesn’t respond to other treatments or has a very high risk of coming back. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells.

Find out more about radiation therapy for childhood leukemia.

Stem cell transplant

A stem cell transplant may be used to treat certain subtypes of childhood leukemia that are more likely to come back soon after remission. A stem cell transplant uses high-dose chemotherapy to kill all of the cells in the bone marrow. Healthy stem cells are given to replace the ones in the bone marrow that were destroyed.

Find out more about stem cell transplants for childhood leukemia.

Supportive therapy

Some children are very ill when they are diagnosed with leukemia. Others become ill during treatment. Low blood cell counts can happen because of leukemia or its treatment and cause serious problems, such as infections, bleeding and even heart failure. Supportive therapy, such as antibiotics, antifungals, blood products (transfusions), growth factors or other drugs, may be given to treat or prevent some of these problems.

Find out more about supportive therapy for childhood leukemia.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Your child will need to have regular follow-up visits. These visits allow the healthcare team to monitor your child’s progress and recovery from treatment.

Find out more about follow-up after treatment for childhood leukemia.

Clinical trials

Children with cancer may be treated in a clinical trial. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for your child, ask the healthcare team questions about treatment.

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