Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

  • What is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)?
    In the form of leukemia known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes is affected. It is also sometimes called acute lymphocytic leukemia or lymphoid leukemia. ALL accounts for about 75 to 80 percent of the childhood leukemias.  Leukemia is the most common form of cancer in children, affecting about 3,000 children each year in the United States, accounting for about 30 percent of childhood cancers.

    How Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s approaches acute lymphoblastic leukemia
    Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia are treated through the Leukemia Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s has played a key role in refining treatment for childhood leukemia, resulting in today’s cure rates of more than 85 percent for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We continue to lead leukemia clinical trials designed to increase cure rates, decrease treatment-related side effects and improve care for long-term survivors.

    Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment
    Your child’s physician will determine a specific course of treatment for childhood leukemia based on several factors. Treatment for ALL is a long-term process. Chemotherapy and other treatment for the disease may take two years or more to complete.

    Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that interferes with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. For some types of cancer, chemotherapy is used alone, while in others it is used in conjunction with other therapy, such as radiation or surgery. Chemotherapy is the standard first treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

    Radiation therapy
    Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (radiation) from a specialized machine to damage or kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is usually only given if your child is at a high risk of relapse occurring in the brain or central nervous system.

    Stem cell transplant
    stem cell (or bone marrow) transplant is a treatment that is rarely used to treat ALL. Stem cells are a specific type of cell from which all blood cells develop. They can develop into red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight disease and infection and platelets to aid in blood clotting. Stem cells are found primarily in bone marrow, but some also circulate in the blood stream.

    What is the latest research on pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia?
    Our researchers are conducting randomized clinical studies in childhood ALL. The goal is to reduce treatment intensity for leukemia with good outcomes and to avoid side effects, as well as to test more intense and newer therapies for subtypes with poorer outcomes and to improve cure rates. Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s is recognized as an international leader in the treatment of this disease. We conduct our own trials for children with newly diagnosed ALL, and have opened many early-phase trials of new drugs and new chemotherapy combinations in children with relapsed ALL.

    Clinical Trials
    For many children with rare or hard-to-treat conditions, clinical trials provide new options.

    Learn more
    We provide more in-depth information on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s website, including answers to:

    • What are the symptoms of ALL?
    • How is ALL diagnosed?
    • What are the treatment phases for ALL?
    • What is the long-term outlook for ALL?
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