Childhood Leukemia Overview

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Treating Leukemia in Children TOPICS

How is childhood leukemia treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Children and teens with leukemia and their families have special needs. These needs can be met best by cancer centers for children and teens, working closely with the child’s primary care doctor. These centers offer the advantage of being treated by teams of specialists who know the differences between cancers in adults and those in children and teens, as well as the special needs of younger people with cancer.

For childhood leukemias, this team is often led by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who treats children’s cancers. Many other doctors, nurses, and other specialists might be involved in your child’s care as well.

Going through cancer treatment with a child often means meeting lots of specialists and learning about parts of the medical system you probably haven’t had contact with before. You can find out more about this in Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Understanding the Health Care System.

Your child’s cancer care team will talk to you about treatment options. The most important factor in choosing a treatment is the type of leukemia, although other factors also play a role.

The main treatment for childhood leukemia is chemotherapy (chemo). Sometimes this is given along with a stem cell transplant. Other treatments such as targeted drugs, surgery, and radiation treatment may be used in some cases.

Be sure to ask your cancer care team about any side effects your child might have from treatment. They can tell you about common side effects, how long they might last, and how serious they might be.

Be sure to tell your child’s doctor about any drugs, herbal remedies, or other things you might be giving your child. These could affect how well the treatment works.

For more on how a specific type of childhood leukemia is treated, see the following sections:

Last Medical Review: 05/13/2015
Last Revised: 05/13/2015