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Immediate Treatment for Childhood Leukemia

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Some children are critically ill when they are first diagnosed with leukemia. For example:

  • They might have a shortage of normal white blood cells, which might lead to very serious infections.
  • They might have low levels of platelets or clotting factors in the blood, which can cause severe bleeding.
  • They might not have enough red blood cells, which can lower the amount of oxygen getting to body tissues and put a tremendous strain on the heart.
  • If they have too many (leukemic) white blood cells in the blood, it can slow down the circulation (known as leukostasis). This can lead to serious problems in the brain, heart, or lungs. It might also cause bleeding or blood clotting inside the body. This is not common, but when it happens it needs to be treated right away.

These problems must often be addressed before treatment of the leukemia can begin. Antibiotics, blood growth factors, and transfusions of platelets and red blood cells, or procedures to lower white blood cell counts (for leukostasis) might be needed to treat or help prevent some of these conditions.

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 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 on December 29, 2018.

Tarlock K, Cooper TM. Acute myeloid leukemia in children and adolescents. UpToDate. 2018. Accessed at on December 29, 2018.

Last Revised: February 12, 2019

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