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Survival rates are often used by doctors as a standard way of discussing a child’s prognosis (outlook). These numbers tell you what portion of children in a similar situation (such as with the same type and subtype of leukemia) are still alive a certain amount of time after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you exactly what will happen in an individual child’s case, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that treatment will be successful. Some people find survival rates helpful, but some people might not.
The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of children who live at least 5 years after their leukemia is diagnosed. With acute leukemias (ALL or AML), children who are free of the disease after 5 years are very likely to have been cured, because it’s very rare for these cancers to return after this long.
Knowing the type and subtype of leukemia is important in estimating a child’s outlook. But a number of other factors, including the child’s age and leukemia characteristics, can also affect outlook. Many of these factors are discussed in Prognostic Factors In Childhood Leukemia (ALL or AML). Even when taking these other factors into account, survival rates are at best rough estimates. Your child’s doctor can probably tell you how these numbers apply to your child.
Current 5-year survival rates are based on children first diagnosed and treated more than 5 years ago. Improvements in treatment since then might result in a better outlook for children now being diagnosed.
The 5-year survival rate for children with ALL has greatly increased over time and is now about 90% overall. In general, children in lower risk groups have a better outlook than those in higher risk groups. But it’s important to know that even children in higher risk groups can often still be cured.
The overall 5-year survival rate for children with AML has also increased over time, and is now in the range of 65% to 70%. However, survival rates vary depending on the subtype of AML and other factors. For example, most studies suggest that the cure rate for acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of AML, is now higher than 80%, but rates are lower for some other subtypes of AML.
Accurate survival rates for less common forms of childhood leukemia are harder to find.
For JMML, 5-year survival rates of about 50% have been reported.
For CML, which is rare in children, 5-year survival rates are less helpful, because some children may live for a long time with the leukemia without actually being cured. In the past, 5-year survival rates for CML were reported to be in the range of 60% to 80%. But with the newer, more effective medicines used to treat CML in recent years, survival rates are likely to be higher now.
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.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2018. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2018.
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Horton TM, Steuber CP. Risk group stratification and prognosis for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and adolescents. UpToDate. 2018. Accessed at www.uptodate.com/contents/risk-group-stratification-and-prognosis-for-acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia-in-children-and-adolescents 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.
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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 Revised: February 12, 2019