Treating Leukemia in Children: January 19, 2012

As difficult as the diagnosis and disease may be, many forms of pediatric cancers are curable, especially the most common presentation, leukemia.

“Between twenty to forty percent of children who have cancer usually have a form of leukemia,” says Dr. Emad Salman, a pediatric oncologist/hematologist with The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Pediatric leukemia usually presents between the ages of two and five. It differs from the adult disease in both treatment and outcome.

“Adults don’t respond well. Children tend to do better, the survival rate for childhood lymphocytic leukemia or ALL is somewhere between eighty and ninety percent. Those numbers are not reproduced in the adult population,” says Dr. Salman.

Cali Russell is a pint-sized cancer patient.

“It was just two months after she turned three years old that we found out and she was diagnosed,” says Mindy Russell.

Now four years old, she’s been through a lifetime of hospitalizations and treatments.

“Cali was diagnosed with leukemia, lympho acute lymphocytic leukemia, about a year ago and she’s in remission and she’s doing great,” says Dr. Salman.

Her family could only watch and support her as she underwent a time-tested regimen of treatment.

“The treatment method of choice is chemotherapy, which is systematic. It goes into your blood stream. Whether we give it by mouth or we give it IV or as a shot and it gets into your blood stream,” says Dr. Salman.

“The first few weeks were rough because she had never had medicine before. We have not seen very many side effects from and she’s made it a routine she’s made it a part of her daily life,” says Josh Russell.

Treatment is prolonged; it takes years before doctors are confident the cancer is gone. Girls will undergo chemotherapy periodically for two and half years. It’s three years for boys. Parents will often describe it as a roller coaster ride.
“There are many ups and downs. However as you look back the downs get less and less as you move further away from diagnosis,” says Dr. Salman.

The Russells are ready to put this long ride behind them and face the future with a healthy little girl.

“She’s our little hero. She’s such a trooper and that she can just overcome all of this and make light of it and make it so uplifting; she just inspires everyone that meets her.”