Childhood Leukemia Overview

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Treating Leukemia in Children TOPICS

How is childhood leukemia treated?

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:

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for your child, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your child’s medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your child’s cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping your child feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your child’s cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your child’s cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your child’s care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help your child get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer 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.

Last Medical Review: 05/13/2015
Last Revised: 02/03/2016