Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents and represents almost 1 of 3 cancers found in these populations. Of the 4 main types of leukemia—acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic myeloid leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia—the one that occurs in children and teens most often is ALL. Chronic leukemias and acute myeloid leukemia are rare in this age-group. Here, the focus will be on ALL.
Including both children and adults, the American Cancer Society’s estimates for 2016 predict approximately 6590 new cases of ALL (3590 in males and 3000 in females) and approximately 1430 deaths (800 in males and 630 in females) attributable to the disease. Approximately 6 of every 10 cases of ALL occur in children; however, 4 of 5 deaths occur in adults.1 ALL represents approximately 75% of leukemias found in children and teens.2
The National Cancer Institute reports that the incidence of ALL has increased slowly since 1975, and there are now approximately 3100 cases of ALL diagnosed annually in the United States in children and adolescents aged <20 years. Incidence peaks sharply in young children. There are >90 cases per 1 million per year in children aged 2 to 3 years compared with fewer than 30 cases per 1 million by age 8 years. The incidence of ALL is highest in Hispanic children and is considerably higher in Caucasian children than in African-American children.3
More than 80% of children diagnosed with ALL can be cured with current multiagent regimens. However, some subsets of patients are at high risk for relapse. After evaluating data from >6000 patients enrolled in previous studies, the Children’s Oncology Group defined 4 risk groups for ALL: low risk, standard risk, high risk, and very high risk. For these groups, the estimated 4-year event-free survival is 91%, 86%, 76%, and 46%, respectively.4
Among the many organizations helping to fight childhood cancers, including ALL, St. Baldrick’s Foundation in Monrovia, CA, is the world’s largest private provider of grants dedicated to research. In 1999, co-founder Tim Kenny challenged colleagues John Bender and Enda McDonnell to devise a way to give back in return for their own prosperity. They decided to shave their heads for donations to raise funds for children with cancer. The first St. Baldrick’s event was held on March 17, 2000. They hoped to raise $17,000 by shaving 17 heads, but 19 shaved heads yielded $104,000, which was donated to Children’s Oncology Group research. Since 2005, St. Baldrick’s Foundation has awarded grants totaling $200 million, including more than $66.1 million to the Children’s Oncology Group and its approximately 200 member institutions in the United States.5
1. American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics about acute lymphocytic leukemia? Updated February 18, 2016. www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemia-acutelymphocyticallinadults/detailedguide/leukemia-acute-lymphocytic-key-statistics. Accessed November 23, 2016.
2. American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics for childhood leukemia? Updated February 3, 2016. www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemiainchildren/detailedguide/childhood-leukemia-key-statistics. Accessed November 23, 2016.
3. National Cancer Institute. Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment (PDQ)-health professional version. Updated October 12, 2016. www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/child-all-treatment-pdq. Accessed November 23, 2016.
4. Bhojwani D, Howard SC, Pui CH. High-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Published 2009. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2814411/. Accessed November 23, 2016.
5. St. Baldrick’s Foundation. www.stbaldricks.org/. Accessed November 23, 2016.