Blood Cancer That Begins in Bone Marrow  

Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children. The blood cancer begins bone marrow and quickly spreads throughout the body. At Penn State Children’s Hospital, our internationally-renowned physician-scientists offer our pediatric leukemia patients comprehensive cancer care and cutting-edge treatment options.   

Penn State Children’s Hospital provides family-centered, state-of-the-art treatment and support for leukemia patients and their families. From diagnosis to education, treatment and survivorship, our team is here for your child and your entire family, every step of the way. 

Acute Leukemia Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Children with acute leukemia commonly present with leg pain, difficulty walking, bruising and abnormal complete blood count (CBC) results. Additional warning signs and symptoms of pediatric leukemia include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal paleness
  • Bleeding
  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Repeated infections
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin irritation or rashes
  • Weight loss

When a patient comes in for the first time, our team will examine him or her and check for swelling in the liver, spleen and lymph nodes.  We will also order comprehensive blood tests, including a CBC, to check white blood cell and platelet counts. If acute leukemia is suspected, we usually admit the patient to the hospital so we can run special tests to confirm the diagnosis.

The diagnosis process includes:

  • Testing bone marrow cells: this test identifies the different types of cells in the bone marrow and the molecules on the cell’s surface. This information will help to tell us if it’s acute leukemia. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a needle into the patient’s back hip bone. Your child might be sedated for this procedure.
  • DNA tests: this comprehensive test is performed on the bone marrow cells to determine if there is a mutation in the patient’s cells, which helps us to classify the type of acute leukemia further. This “risk stratification and classification” allows us to tailor the treatment regimen to the patient’s exact condition and helps us create a plan with the highest chances of success.
  • Lumbar puncture: this test is performed to determine if there is leukemia in the spinal fluid. The results of this test will help us to determine if any treatment plan adjustments will be needed. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a needle between the patient’s vertebrae and removes a sample of spinal fluid. Your child will be sedated during the procedure.

The cause of pediatric acute leukemia is not known. Several genetic and environmental factors are connected to leukemia in children, including viral infections, chemical exposure from cigarettes, chromosomal abnormalities and hereditary or acquired diseases.

Why Choose Penn State Children’s Hospital for Care

Comprehensive Pediatric Cancer Care

Our team of leukemia specialists will take the time to explain all of the test results to your family. We know it is shocking news to hear that your child has cancer. We are here to give you the emotional support and medical knowledge you need to evaluate treatment options, including the opportunity for your child to participate in clinical trials.

Commitment to Childhood Cancer Research

Researchers at Penn State Children’s Hospital are focused on learning how pediatric cancer treatment can be as effective as possible while minimizing its long-term side effects. The data collected from our clinical trials and research studies – and that of our collaborators – enables us to provide robust treatments tailored to each patient.

Penn State Children’s Hospital is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research. We collaborate with researchers around the world who are dedicated to improving outcomes for children with cancer, which gives our patients access to the most advanced clinical trials available for many types of childhood cancer – including leukemia.

We also participate in other research collaborations, including the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium (NMTRC) and the Pediatric Oncology Experimental Therapeutics Investigators' Consortium (POETIC).

Our pediatric oncology experimental therapeutics program, called Experimental Therapeutics Research and Clinical Team (ExTRaCT), focuses on early-phase clinical studies for very high-risk and relapsed patients. Our mission is to identify approaches to increase the cure rate and reduce the side effects of cancer treatment for children. Our providers have extensive experience monitoring children who are undergoing experimental treatment.

To inquire about current early phase clinical trials at Penn State Children’s Hospital, please call 717-531-3097.

Pediatric oncology research projects are funded by the National Institutes of Health and various philanthropic organizations. A major supporter is Four Diamonds, which covers the financial costs of medical care – including traveling and lodging – for all Pennsylvania childhood cancer patients and their families being treated at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Pediatric Leukemia Treatment Options

At Penn State Children’s Hospital, we are committed to giving our pediatric leukemia patients the latest in cutting-edge cancer treatments. Our comprehensive diagnostic testing will help us tailor a treatment plan specifically for your type of leukemia, which can vary by subset.

Our two primary leukemia treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: cancer-fighting drugs taken intravenously, intrathecally, topically or by mouth
  • Radiation therapy: high-energy waves to destroy cancer cells
  • Clinical trials: targeted therapies still being studied by researches. Clinical trials often give patients access to the newest leukemia treatments available.

Your child’s cancer care team will discuss each treatment option’s pros and cons and create a treatment plan to fit your child’s specific needs.

Support Services at Penn State Children’s Hospital

Acute leukemia patients and their families receive comprehensive, state-of-the-art treatment and family-centered support. Our child life specialists are available to help patients and their family members cope with their diagnosis and adjust to the unfamiliar hospital environment.

Additionally, social workers are here to assist families with a variety of complicated issues, from insurance to lodging to transportation. Other support services Penn State Children’s Hospital include clinical psychologists, music therapists, chaplains and nutritionists.

Nationally Recognized Care

Penn State Children’s Hospital is routinely ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the nation because of our focus on patient care, safety and research. U.S. News & World Report has recognized Penn State Children’s Hospital specialties with top rankings. You can see all of our awards and recognitions here.

Support Groups

Support groups provide children and their families an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

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