Surgery for Childhood Leukemia

Surgery has a very limited role in treating childhood leukemia. Because leukemia cells spread widely throughout the bone marrow and blood, it’s not possible to cure this type of cancer with surgery. Aside from a possible lymph node biopsy, surgery rarely has any role even in diagnosing leukemia, since this is usually done with a bone marrow aspirate and biopsy can usually diagnose leukemia.

Placing a central venous catheter

Often before chemotherapy is about to start, surgery is needed to insert a small plastic tube, called a central venous catheter (CVC) or venous access device (VAD), into a large blood vessel. The end of the tube stays just under the skin or sticks out in the chest area or upper arm.

The CVC is left in place during treatment (often for many months) to give intravenous (IV) drugs such as chemotherapy and to take blood samples. This lowers the number of needle sticks needed during treatment. It’s very important for parents to learn how to care for the catheter to keep it from getting infected.

For more information on surgery as a treatment for cancer, see Cancer Surgery.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Horton TM, Steuber CP. Overview of the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and adolescents. UpToDate. 2018. Accessed at www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-the-treatment-of-acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia-in-children-and-adolescents on December 29, 2018.

National Cancer Institute. Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/child-all-treatment-pdq on December 29, 2018.

National Cancer Institute. Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia/Other Myeloid Malignancies Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/child-aml-treatment-pdq on December 29, 2018.

Tarlock K, Cooper TM. Acute myeloid leukemia in children and adolescents. UpToDate. 2018. Accessed at www.uptodate.com/contents/acute-myeloid-leukemia-in-children-and-adolescents on December 29, 2018.

Last Medical Review: February 12, 2019 Last Revised: February 12, 2019

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