Childhood leukaemia

Friday, November 21, 2003
  • Cancer afflicts about one in 550 children under the age of 15. Acute leukaemia is the most common form of childhood cancer, representing about 35% of cases.

  • Acute leukaemia develops when white blood cells grow out of control and continue to divide but do not mature. Because they are immature they do not carry out the normal work of white cells, increasing the risk of infection.

  • Fifty years ago, acute leukaemia was a death sentence – nearly all patients died.

  • Since the 1970s, however, remarkable improvements have been made in survival rates, thanks to new knowledge, new technology, earlier detection and better treatments.

  • Today, depending on the type of acute leukaemia present and the age of the child, cure rates can be in excess of 75%.

  • Treatment usually involves chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill leukaemia cells, and in children at high risk for relapse or with difficult to treat disease, radiotherapy is also used to destroy the cancer cells or injure them so they cannot multiply.

  • It may also include peripheral blood stem cell and bone marrow transplantation, to help restore blood cell numbers to a healthy level.

  • New ways of treating childhood leukaemia are always being developed. In future we can anticipate a new range of therapies which can correct the genetic defects that lead to cancer and assist the body’s immune system to fight it.

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