Leukemia is a malignant blood disorder that develops in a child's bone marrow and occasionally other tissues.
The types of leukemia are named after the specific blood cell that becomes cancerous, such as the lymphocytic cells or the myeloid cells.
There are three main types of leukemia in children each with many subtypes:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) (very rare in children)
A Marshfield Clinic hematology specialist will work with you to determine the best possible treatments for your child based on the type of leukemia.
Chemotherapy drugs interfere with the growth of cancer cells, eventually causing the cells to die. In the treatment of Leukemia, most patients are treated with more than one drug at the same time.
Radiation Therapy may on occasion be recommended for patients with ALL to prevent or treat Leukemia in the lining of the spinal cord and brain (central nervous system). Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
In certain circumstances use of higher doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used to treat leukemia. Because radiation therapy and chemotherapy destroy stem cells when they eradicate cancer cells, stem cell transplantation may be used to rebuild a patient's supply of those cells.
In stem cell transplantation, before a child begins radiation or chemotherapy doctors give the donor a medication to increase the number of stem cells in the blood, and then collect stem cells, a process called apheresis. After the stem cells are removed, the blood is returned to the body.
Allogeneic stem cell transplants refer to stem cells that are taken from one person and given to another. With these transplants, the donor's cells must match the recipient's. In many cases, the stem cell donor is related to the recipient, typically a brother or sister.
However, stem cells from unrelated donors can be used if the tissue types matches. It may also be possible to use cells from banked cord blood. Allogeneic stem cell transplantation is most commonly used for acute leukemia.
Targeted therapies (specifically for CML):
This term describes drugs that target various proteins that contribute to the growth of cancer. Unlike chemotherapy drugs that kill both healthy and cancer cells, targeted therapies selectively kill only cancer cells, which decrease side effects. Imatinib (Gleevec) is an example of targeted therapy used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).