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What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. It develops in the bone marrow and is the most common form of cancer in children. The condition affects around 3,800 children each year in the U.S., which is about 30 percent of childhood cancers. Leukemia can occur at any age, although it is most common in children aged 2 to 6 years old and found slightly more frequently in boys than girls. It is more common in Caucasian children than in children of other races.

Types of leukemia in children

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a leukemia that affects cells called lymphocytes. ALL accounts for close to 80 percent of childhood leukemia cases each year in the U.S. It develops quickly, over a period of days or weeks.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) affects cells called granulocytes (such as neutrophils or eosinophils). It is the second most common form of leukemia in children and accounts for about 20 percent of all childhood leukemia cases in the U.S. Like ALL, it develops quickly, over days or weeks.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is very rare in children. Unlike ALL and AML, it develops slowly, over a period of months or years.
  • Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML) is a rare type of blood cancer that occurs when bone marrow production of white blood cells becomes severely disregulated. JMML accounts for only about one to two percent of childhood leukemia cases.

How we care for leukemia

Children and teens with leukemia are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Hematologic Malignancy Center's Leukemia Program. Dana-Farber/Boston Children's has played a key role in refining treatment for childhood leukemia, and we continue to be a world leader in leukemia clinical trials designed to increase cure rates, decrease treatment-related side effects and improve care for long-term survivors. The Leukemia Program also offers families the chance to have their child's leukemia cells molecularly profiled, which may help identify opportunities for targeted treatment.

Learn more

Find in-depth information on leukemia in children on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute website, including details on leukemia causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Leukemia | Programs & Services