Treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

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Learn about the different types of treatment for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Key points

  • The three main types of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant (BMT).
  • Children that are diagnosed with leukemia will begin chemotherapy right away as the first line of treatment.
  • Few children with ALL will receive radiation. A BMT may be considered for some children with ALL.

The purpose of treatment is to bring your child into remission by killing most of the leukemic cells in the bone marrow. When this happens the body starts to produce normal blood cells.

There are three main types of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL):

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation
  • bone marrow transplant (BMT)


When your child is diagnosed with leukemia, doctors will start them on chemotherapy right away. Chemotherapy is the first line of treatment for children and takes approximately two and a half years for girls and three and a half years for boys. The majority of treatment for ALL is given in an outpatient clinic.

Typically, the entire course of chemotherapy treatment for ALL is divided into five phases, which differ in length and type of medicine that is used. The aim of each phase is to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible. The phases are:

  1. Induction. This phase also helps the doctor determine how well your child is likely to respond to the rest of treatment.
  2. Consolidation
  3. Interim maintenance
  4. Delayed intensification
  5. Maintenance. This phase lasts two years for girls and three years for boys. This phase continues to treat undetectable leukaemic cells that persist during the initial intensive phases of chemotherapy.


Few children with ALL will receive radiation. The doctor will consider radiation if your child has:

  • very high-risk ALL
  • leukemia cells in the central nervous system (CNS)
  • for males, leukemia cells in the testicles.

Bone marrow transplant

Bone marrow transplant may be considered for children with ALL who:

  • do not respond well to chemotherapy
  • have very high-risk leukemia
  • relapse.
Last updated: March 6th 2018