Leukemia is the leading cancer among children, says Matthew Richardson, M.D., a Baystate pediatric oncologist.
Each year, about 13,500 new cases of pediatric cancer are diagnosed nationwide in children and adolescents. About one-third of childhood cancers like Giselle’s are leukemias. ALL, which can appear in adults and children, accounts for about 75 to 80 percent of childhood leukemias. After leukemia, brain tumors are the most common solid tumors, followed by less common neuroblastomas, Wilms tumors, and sarcomas involving the muscles and bones, according to a press release from Baystate Medical Center.
Childhood leukemia responds better to treatment than adult leukemia, however, for various reasons, but partly because children can often tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy and do not have many of the other preexisting conditions that adult leukemia patients may have, such as liver, lung or kidney disease, that worsens the prognosis, according to Richardson.
Treatment of ALL involves a variety of chemotherapy medications given intravenously, by mouth, via shots and also by infusion into the spinal cord. Surgery is not usually required, other than for the purpose of implanting a central venous catheter, also referred to as a port, which is used for administering chemotherapy, blood products, antibiotics, and to obtain blood specimens. There are different phases of treatment that span a period of about 2.5 years, starting with an induction phase that uses an intense chemo regimen to wipe out as many leukemia cells as possible. After a long period of intensive chemotherapy in stages, the patient hopefully reaches the final phase of maintenance therapy, where chemo is administered mostly by mouth with a monthly visit
to the hospital for IV chemotherapy and a spinal infusion every three months. Doctors also do regular bone marrow aspirations to see whether the child has any leukemia cells.
— SANDRA DIAS