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Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment

The Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department at Sheba Medical Center features a multidisciplinary team of specialists with vast experience in treating ALL. We work together to ensure that each patient benefits from cutting-edge personalized and multidisciplinary treatment plans built by our medical oncologists, hematologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and other specialists.

Our extensive facilities here at Sheba provide all the equipment necessary for testing and treatment so that you benefit from quick results and immediate action throughout each stage of your cancer care.

Factors that affect the ALL treatment

The treatment of ALL is a complex and multifaceted process that can be influenced by various factors. At Sheba, a team of highly skilled hematologists, oncologists, radiation oncologists, pediatric specialists and other medical professionals collaborate to develop personalized treatment plans for each patient with ALL.

This approach takes into account the following factors to tailor the most effective and suitable treatment strategy. These factors can significantly impact treatment decisions, outcomes and overall patient care, and are crucial to optimize treatment strategies and improve patient outcomes.

  • Age of the Patient: The age of the patient is a critical factor that impacts treatment decisions for ALL. Pediatric and adult ALL are distinct diseases with different treatment approaches. Children typically receive pediatric-specific protocols, while adults may undergo more intensive regimens. Infants, toddlers and older children receive tailored protocols due to their unique needs. Infants require special care to avoid long-term effects, while toddlers may face challenges cooperating with treatment. Older children may tolerate treatments differently and may need extra support.
  • Blood Count Results: Blood count results, including white blood cell count, platelet count and hemoglobin level, play a vital role in assessing disease severity and guiding treatment. High white blood cell counts at diagnosis may indicate a more aggressive disease and may require more intense induction therapy.
  • Response to Initial Treatment: The response of leukemia cells to initial induction therapy is a critical determinant for further care. Patients who achieve complete remission after induction therapy have a better prognosis and typically proceed with further post-remission and maintenance therapy. In contrast, inadequate response or minimal remission may require additional therapeutic interventions or, in some severe cases, experimental treatments.
  • Types of ALL: ALL comprises different subtypes based on the cell type involved, such as B-cell ALL or T-cell ALL. Each subtype may have distinct biological and clinical characteristics, affecting treatment response and outcomes. B-cell ALL, for example, is more common and generally has a better prognosis than T-cell ALL.
  • Prognostic Disease Markers: Genetic and molecular markers can provide crucial information about the aggressiveness and prognosis of ALL. Specific chromosomal abnormalities, such as the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph+), can impact treatment decisions. Certain genetic mutations may require targeted therapies in addition to standard chemotherapy.
  • Disease Relapse: Disease recurrence is a significant challenge in the treatment of ALL. Patients with relapsed or refractory ALL have a poorer prognosis and may require salvage therapies, bone marrow transplantation or participation in clinical trials to improve outcomes.
  • Minimal Residual Disease (MRD): MRD refers to the small number of leukemia cells that may remain in the body after initial treatment. Monitoring MRD levels helps assess treatment response and guide subsequent therapies. Patients with persistent MRD after induction therapy may require more intensive treatments or bone marrow transplantation.

ALL Risk Groups

The prognosis of ALL varies based on specific risk factors present at the time of diagnosis. Risk group stratification plays a critical role in determining treatment intensity and tailoring therapy to optimize outcomes for patients.

Identifying risk groups allows oncologists to categorize patients into different risk categories and develop personalized treatment plans. Monitoring minimal residual disease (MRD) levels during and after treatment can further refine risk group stratification and guide treatment modifications. Here are the primary risk groups used in ALL:

  • Standard Risk Group: Patients in the standard risk group typically have a more favorable prognosis with a higher likelihood of achieving long-term remission. This group often includes children with specific favorable genetic features, such as the absence of certain high-risk chromosomal abnormalities, like the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph-) or MLL rearrangements. These patients usually respond well to standard chemotherapy protocols.
  • High-Risk Group: The high-risk group comprises patients with features associated with a poorer prognosis or higher chances of treatment resistance. This group may include those with specific adverse genetic abnormalities, such as the presence of the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph+) or certain gene mutations. Older adults, especially those over 60, are also often considered high-risk due to their lower tolerance to aggressive treatments.
  • Very High-Risk Group: The very high-risk group includes patients with particularly unfavorable prognostic markers or poor response to initial therapy. This group may consist of patients with refractory disease (non-responsive to initial treatment), those who experience early relapse, or individuals with complex genetic abnormalities or chromosomal rearrangements.
  • Infants with ALL: Infants with ALL form a distinct risk group due to their unique clinical and genetic characteristics. Infant ALL often presents with specific chromosomal translocations and may require tailored treatment approaches.

It is important to note that risk groups in ALL are continuously evolving as researchers uncover new genetic and molecular markers associated with prognosis. Advances in genomics and precision medicine are progressively shaping risk group stratification, leading to more precise and tailored therapies for individual patients.

ALL Treatment Phases

Induction Chemotherapy

The induction chemotherapy phase is the initial and critical step in the treatment of ALL. Its primary objective is to rapidly reduce the number of leukemia cells in the body and induce remission. During this phase, patients receive potent combinations of chemotherapy drugs. These drugs are carefully selected to target the specific leukemia cells and restore normal blood cell production. Induction chemotherapy is crucial for achieving an initial response to treatment and putting the disease into remission.

Consolidation Therapy (Intensification)

After successful induction chemotherapy, patients enter the consolidation therapy phase, also known as intensification. This stage involves more aggressive chemotherapy aimed at eradicating any residual leukemia cells that might remain in the body. The goal is to consolidate the results achieved during induction and further reduce the risk of relapse. Consolidation therapy helps prevent the reappearance of leukemia cells and strengthens the chances of achieving long-term remission.

Delayed Intensification

Following consolidation therapy, patients undergo the delayed intensification phase. This period involves additional rounds of chemotherapy to target any remaining leukemia cells that might not have been completely eliminated during earlier treatments. Delayed intensification is critical for further reducing the number of leukemia cells, preventing the emergence of resistant clones and enhancing treatment success.

Maintenance Therapy

After completing the consolidation and delayed intensification phases, patients transition into the maintenance therapy phase. Maintenance therapy involves lower doses of chemotherapy administered over an extended period, often lasting several years. The objective of maintenance therapy is to keep any residual leukemia cells in check and prevent the disease from returning. This phase is essential for sustaining remission and achieving long-term survival.

Throughout these treatment phases, patients are closely monitored for treatment response and potential side effects. Supportive care is provided to manage any adverse effects and maintain the patient’s overall wellbeing. The combination of these treatment phases, carefully orchestrated by a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, is crucial in effectively managing ALL and improving long-term outcomes for patients. Each phase serves a distinct purpose in the treatment journey, ultimately working toward the goal of achieving a cure or prolonged remission for individuals with ALL.

Treatment Options for ALL


Chemotherapy treatment for ALL is divided into the 3 phases mentioned above. During intensive phases, patients usually need to be hospitalized. Sheba employs a wide range of chemotherapy regimens tailored to each patient’s specific subtype and risk profile and usually involves combination of different chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy is usually administered either orally, intravenously, or intrathecally (into the cerebrospinal fluid) to target leukemia cells throughout the body. The treatment aims to induce remission by eliminating cancer cells or preventing their rapid growth and division.

Targeted Therapy

Sheba is at the forefront of targeted therapy advancements. Targeted therapy drugs work differently from chemotherapy drugs because they are made to identify and attack specific cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. By selectively attacking cancer cells, targeted therapies can improve treatment efficacy and reduce side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy.

One of every four adults with ALL has leukemia cells with the Philadelphia chromosome — an abnormal chromosome formed by the swapping of genetic material between chromosomes 9 and 22. Targeted drugs have been developed to attack this specific type of ALL.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. It is not usually used in the treatment of ALL, but may be used if leukemia has spread, or before a bone marrow transplant. As a crucial part of central nervous system (CNS) prophylaxis, Sheba may use radiotherapy to treat or prevent leukemia cells from spreading to the brain and spinal cord. By delivering precisely targeted high-energy radiation to specific areas, oncologists can effectively destroy leukemia cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues.

Bone Marrow Transplant

A bone marrow transplant is a procedure that involves replacing damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. For patients with high-risk ALL, relapsed ALL, or those who do not respond well to initial treatments, Sheba specializes in bone marrow transplants. The bone marrow may come from the patient (cells are removed and frozen before a person gets treatment), from a donor or from umbilical cord blood.

This transplant allows for the development of a new, healthy blood and immune system, providing a chance for long-term remission and potentially curing the disease. Additionally, since very high doses of chemotherapy can severely damage bone marrow, a bone marrow transplant allows doctors to use higher doses to kill leukemia cells and then restore the bone marrow through a transplant. After the transplant, the new cells multiply and create healthy bone marrow.

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Car T-Cell Therapy

Sheba is a leading institution in adopting CAR T-cell therapy, a groundbreaking immunotherapy typically given for relapsed or refractory ALL. In this innovative treatment, the patient’s T-cells are extracted and genetically engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that specifically targets and binds to leukemia cells. The engineered T-cells then grow and are infused back into the patient, unleashing potent and targeted immune responses against the cancer.

At Sheba Medical Center, the treatment approach for ALL is highly individualized. The multidisciplinary medical team collaborates to create comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient’s specific condition and type of ALL. This personalized care ensures the best possible outcomes and fosters a patient-centric model that addresses each patient’s unique challenges and needs throughout their treatment.

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Follow-Up Care for ALL

Follow-up care for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a critical component of the treatment journey, aiming to monitor the patient’s health, detect any potential relapse or late effects, manage side effects, and provide support for the patient’s physical and emotional wellbeing. The specifics of follow-up care may vary depending on the patient’s individual condition and treatment response. However, here are some general aspects of follow-up care for patients who have undergone treatment for ALL:

  • Regular Medical Checkups: After completing treatment, patients typically have regular check-ups with their oncologist or hematologist. These visits may occur more frequently initially and then gradually become less frequent as time goes on and the patient remains in remission.
  • Blood Tests and Imaging: Follow-up visits often include blood tests to monitor blood counts and check for any signs of relapse. Periodic imaging studies, such as bone marrow biopsies or CT scans, may also be performed to assess the patient’s response to treatment and detect any signs of disease recurrence.
  • Managing Late Effects: ALL treatment, particularly chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can have long-term effects on the body. The medical team will monitor for late effects, such as heart problems, fertility issues, cognitive changes, or secondary cancers. Depending on the patient’s specific risks, appropriate interventions and lifestyle modifications may be recommended.
  • Supportive Care: Follow-up care includes ongoing support for managing treatment-related side effects and addressing any physical or emotional challenges that arise. This support may involve pain management, nutritional counseling, fertility preservation, psychological support, and rehabilitation services.
  • Education and Lifestyle Recommendations: Patients and their families receive education from Sheba’s medical team about signs and symptoms to watch for, which may indicate a potential relapse or other health concerns. They are also provided with lifestyle recommendations, such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Psychosocial Support: The emotional impact of ALL and its treatment can be significant. Sheba Medical Center offers comprehensive social support services as part of their follow-up care for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), providing patients and their families with access to counseling, support groups, and psychosocial resources to help them cope with the emotional challenges and enhance their overall wellbeing throughout the treatment and survivorship journey.

Follow-up care for ALL is crucial for achieving the best possible outcomes, preventing relapse, and ensuring the patient’s overall wellbeing and quality of life. It is essential for patients to maintain open communication with their healthcare team, attend all recommended follow-up appointments, and report any new or concerning symptoms promptly to ensure early detection and timely intervention if necessary.

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Sheba Medical Center provides innovative, personalized medical care to patients from around the world. We are the largest, most comprehensive hospital in the Middle East and dedicated to providing advanced and compassionate medicine for everyone. We welcome all cases, including the rarest and the most challenging. Our medical teams collaborate to provide the best possible health outcomes. From your initial inquiry through the long-term follow-up care, we are here for you.

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