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Pediatric Leukemia: A Cancer Success Story

Pediatric leukemia has seen incredible success rate growth in recent years.
Pediatric leukemia has seen incredible success rate growth in recent years. Photo Credit: iStock.com_Frantab

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia – or ALL -- is the most common cancer diagnosed among children and adolescents age 20 and younger. And while nearly 5,000 children will be diagnosed with leukemia each year in the United States, pediatric leukemia is one of cancer's great success stories. That's because more than 98 percent of children diagnosed with ALL today go into remission and 90 percent of those children are cured, a rate that has risen significantly since the 1950s.

What has contributed to this success? Since cancer in children is relatively rare, pediatric cancer investigators over the years have banded together, collaborating in multicenter clinical trials to develop and evaluate new treatments for the disease. Today's chemotherapy treatments for pediatric leukemia were borne out of these collaborations, improving the odds for every child diagnosed with leukemia today. That collaboration also became the model for adult cancer research and has led to major advances in adult cancer care as well.

Treating Leukemia in Children

Children with leukemia receive combinations of anticancer drugs to kill leukemia cells, delivered with different intensities during different phases. Some also receive radiation therapy, and in some cases a stem cell transplant is needed to give the child new immune and blood-forming systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy for recurrent or persistent ALL in patients up to age 25. With this revolutionary immunotherapy, white blood cells called T cells are removed from the patient, genetically modified and grown to larger quantities in a laboratory, and returned to the patient to find and kill leukemia cells.

Getting to the Roots of Persistent Leukemia

What about the 10-15 percent of children who don't survive leukemia? Researchers are using the latest genetic tools to study the molecular differences between leukemias that can be cured and those that persist or come back despite treatment. Scientists at academic medical centers with a children’s hospital, such as the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, are conducting pioneering research to decipher the genetic intricacies of these cancers and to develop new therapies that zero in on the molecular drivers of stubborn cancers. Children treated at academic medical centers often have opportunities to participate in clinical trials of novel therapies.

NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) Cancer Centers provide high-quality, comprehensive cancer care at convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area, Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley and provide a comprehensive program of cancer services in state-of-the-art, comfortable environments. Board certified, hematologic and disease-focused medical oncologists collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists to provide each patient with an individualized plan of care. To find a location, visit

NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest and most comprehensive hospitals in the nation, ranked New York’s No. 1 hospital for the 16th consecutive year, and No. 6 in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Affiliated with two academic medical colleges – Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian brings together internationally recognized researchers and clinicians to develop and implement the latest approaches for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in New York State. NewYork-Presbyterian provides comprehensive cancer care at all of our locations across the New York Metro area, including Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Learn more at