The goal in treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) is to kill all the leukemia cells in the body.
To decrease the chance of Leukaemia invading the central nervous system, patients receive intrathecal chemotherapy, which administers cancer-killing drugs into the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Radiation treatments to eradicate Leukaemia in the brain may also be used for certain high-risk patients. During this period, close monitoring by a paediatric oncologist is imperative. Intensive Leukaemia chemotherapy may incur side effects like hair loss, nausea and vomiting. As treatment progresses, the cancer treatment team will monitor the child closely for those side effects.
Once remission is achieved, maintenance chemotherapy is then used to keep the child in remission. This is given in cycles over a period of two to three years to keep the cancer from recurring. Leukaemia will almost always relapse (re-occur) if this additional chemotherapy isn't given. There are also cases when the cancer returns even though maintenance chemotherapy is given, and other forms of chemotherapy will then be necessary.
Bone Marrow Transplant
In some instances, a bone marrow transplant may be necessary in addition to, or instead of chemotherapy, depending on the type of Leukaemia a child has. Healthy bone marrows are injected into the child’s body during the transplant.
With the proper treatment, the outlook for children who are diagnosed with Leukaemia is excellent. Childhood ALL has >98% remission rate after 1 month of therapy and > 80% are cured.
The cure rates for AML used to be rather poor, but recently, with improved drug therapy (including cellular therapy for some patients) and supportive care, ~60% of children with AML are curable under our recent research protocol.