Childhood Cancer

What is leukemia?

It is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Immature and functionless “blast” cells proliferate preventing the growth of red blood cells (carry oxygen throughout our body), platelets (make clots), and white blood cells (help fight infections).

Four Types:

  • Acute Lymphocytic (or Lymphoblastic) Leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

How many people are diagnosed with leukemia each year?

It was estimated that 44,240 people would be diagnosed with leukemia in 2007 (40,440 adults and 3,800 children). 33% of cancers in children are leukemia and ALL is the most common type of leukemia in children under 19.

Signs and Symptoms:

bruising/bleeding (due to lack of platelets), paleness/fatigue (anemia), increased incidence of infections, bone pain, enlarged lymph nodes, fever of unknown cause.

How is leukemia diagnosed?

A blood test (Complete blood count) followed by a bone marrow aspirate and biopsy.

Survival Rates:

1960s – (5 yr. survival rate) – 14%
1970s – 35%
1990s – 50% (specifically for ALL the survival rate was 65% and 90% for children under 5)

Treatment for ALL

Treatment for ALL lasts 2-3 years. It is divided into several phases that incorporate a variety of medications at different intervals. Chemotherapy medications are administered orally, intravenously (usually through a central venous access device like a Port), intramuscularly, and intrathecally (into the cerebro-spinal fluid). Other support medications, such as antibiotics, laxatives, anti-emetics, and pain medications, are incorporated into the regimen as needed.

The phases of treatment:

Induction (first 28 days of treatment)
Consolidation (28 days)
Interim Maintenance (50 days)
Delayed Intensification (42 days)
Maintenance (lasting the remainder of the 2-3 years).