Treating Childhood Leukemia and Lymphoma

  • Kara Kelly, MD with pediatric cancer patient.

Roswell Park Oishei Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Program treats children with leukemia and children with lymphoma. When you visit our facility, you’ll see that it’s designed for the special needs of children and their families who are dealing with life-threatening or ongoing (chronic) illnesses.

You’ll meet with world-renowned doctors who specialize in leukemia and lymphoma. These leaders in research will help you feel confident that your child is being treated by an expert. Our physicians are available for second opinions to help provide additional information to assist in your child’s care.

Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow (produces blood cells). A child with leukemia suffers from an abnormal production of blood cells, generally leukocytes (white blood cells).

There are many types of leukemia including:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)

When leukemia is suspected, physicians will run tests to learn what type of leukemia is present.

These tests include:

  • Laboratory studies
  • Bone marrow aspiration (where a small sample is taken from the soft tissue inside your bones)
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture (a needle is carefully inserted into the spinal canal low in the back, and samples of cerebral spinal fluid are collected).

We also carry out molecular testing to screen for possible changes in the DNA of leukemia cells that cannot be seen under a microscope.

We offer specialized diagnostic testing and treatments that are not offered at many centers that treat children with leukemia, including clinical trials offered through the DFCI ALL Consortium.

Treating Leukemia in Children

Roswell Park now offers the FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy Kymriah™ for patients 25 and younger who have been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that has either relapsed (gone into remission and then returned) or is refractory (has not gone into remission despite treatment).

Chemotherapy is usually the first therapy for all types of leukemia in children. Stem cell transplant is also used to treat leukemia, especially AML and CML, though it is seldom used for ALL.

Other treatments include:

  • Blood transfusions to supplement or replace red blood cells and platelets.
  • Antibiotics to fight or protect against infection are also used to treat leukemia.
  • Nutrition support to help manage the side effects of the treatment.

Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune and lymph system. The lymph system is an important part of the immune system that filters waste, bacteria, and other harmful substances out of the body.

Hodgkin Lymphoma

Hodgkin Lymphoma is a condition in which cancer cells form in the lymph system. The lymph system includes the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow and other sites.

Treating Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children

Hodgkin lymphoma in children is diagnosed by performing a lymph node biopsy. This is when a small amount of lymph tissue is removed and tested. 

If the test comes back positive, more tests will be done to see how far the cancer has spread. These tests may include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan
  • Bone marrow biopsy

These tests are part of the staging process, which helps your doctor decide which treatment is best for your child.

Typical treatments include chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, in which medicines or radiation are used to attack the cancer. We offer access to cutting-edge clinical trials that are testing immunotherapy for select groups of children and young adults with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Survival and cure rates for Hodgkin lymphoma in children are excellent.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) is the name for a group of different kinds of cancerous growths that develop in the lymph system (part of the immune system that helps filter out waste and toxins). The growths may appear in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow and other sites. 

In NHL, the cancer cells develop from regular cells in the immune system. The most common types are called:

  • Burkitt lymphoma
  • Diffuse large B cell lymphoma
  • Lymphoblastic T cell or B cell lymphoma
  • Anaplastic large cell lymphoma

Treating non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children

Normally the first tests done to look for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children are ultrasound, CT scans and MRIs. These imaging studies look in the areas where your child is having symptoms.

The diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy, which is a procedure where a small amount of tissue is removed and examined.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, a full examination is done to learn:

  • The scope of the disease
  • How long the disease has been affecting your child
  • How much of your child’s body it is affecting

These exams will help us stage the disease and decide on the best treatment for your child.

Our team of experts work together to treat your child and may include:

  • Oncologists (doctors who specialize in cancer medicine)
  • Radiation therapists
  • Surgeons who specialize in working with children

Combination chemotherapy (using different medicines together to attack the cancer cells) is the main treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children. We offer novel clinical trials including ones evaluating targeted therapies that are promising for the treatment of children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Our Facilities

The John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital is our standalone children’s hospital, and a partner of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

We designed our facility with pediatric patients and their families in mind. Children do not have to stay only in their rooms. They are free to walk the hallways and enjoy the playrooms in our bright and airy center.

The family area is a great place to visit with other parents and families, while still being able to keep an eye on your child.  

Our Child Life Specialists help your child pass the time in the clinic or during treatment with activities such as playing games and playing with toys, watching movies and doing crafts.

The Katherine, Anne and Donna Gioia Pediatric Hematology Oncology Outpatient Center is a state-of-the-art facility providing infusion and patient care areas.