Leukemia Treatment

Specific treatment for leukemia will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • The extent of the disease
  • Your child's tolerance for certain medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment usually begins by addressing the presenting symptoms such as anemia, bleeding, and/or infection. In addition, treatment for leukemia may include (alone or in combination) the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Intrathecal medications/chemotherapy (medications are inserted through a needle into the spinal cord into the area called the subarachnoid space)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Bone marrow transplantation or peripheral blood stem cell transplantation
  • Biological therapy
  • Medications (to prevent or treat damage to other systems of the body caused by leukemia treatment)
  • Medications (for nausea and side effects of treatment)
  • Blood transfusions (red blood cells, platelets)
  • Antibiotics (to prevent/treat infections)
  • Continuous follow-up care (to determine response to treatment, detect recurrent disease, and manage late effects of treatment)

Stages of Leukemia Treatment

There are various stages in the treatment of leukemia, including the following:

  • Induction - a combination of chemotherapy and/or radiation and medications given to stop the process of abnormal cells being made in the bone marrow. Remission is the goal in this stage of treatment. Remission means the leukemia cells are no longer being made. This phase may last approximately one month and can be repeated if the goal is not achieved.
  • Intensification - continued treatment even though leukemia cells may not be visible. The leukemia cells may not be visible in a blood test or bone marrow examination, but it is possible that the cells are still present in the body.
  • Maintenance - the stage that maintains leukemia-free bone marrow by continuing less intense chemotherapy for a longer duration. This phase can last months to several years. Regular visits to your child's physician are required in order to determine response to treatment, detect any recurrent disease, and manage any side effects of the treatment.
  • Relapse - may occur even with aggressive therapy. Relapse is when the bone marrow begins making abnormal cells again. Relapse can occur during any of the stages of treatment, or may occur months or years after treatment has ended.

Long-Term Outlook

The prognosis for a child with leukemia greatly depends on:

  • The extent of the disease.
  • Disease response to treatment.
  • Genetics.
  • Age and overall health of the child.
  • Your child's tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
  • New developments in treatment.

As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from child to child. Prompt medical attention and aggressive therapy are important for the best prognosis. Continuous follow-up care is essential for the child diagnosed with leukemia.

Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as second malignancies, can occur in survivors of leukemia. New methods are continually being discovered to improve treatment and to decrease side effects of the treatment for the disease.