Understanding Childhood AML: What You Need To Know

When you take your child to the pediatrician for unusual symptoms like mysterious bruising and fatigue, you do not expect to come away with a diagnosis of childhood acute myeloid leukemia (AML). However, if this does happen to you and your child, your next thought is about what is going to happen to your child from here on out. Get to know some of the procedures and treatments that your child may go through now that they have been diagnosed with childhood AML so that you can be better prepared to care for and support your child through this tough time in their life.

Cytogenetic Analysis and Other Tests

Once your child has a diagnosis of AML, the first step in determining a treatment protocol will be for you child to go through more testing. AML is a specific type of leukemia. However, within that type of leukemia, there are also numerous sub-types. 

Determining what sub-type of AML your child has will help your child's medical team to better come up with a plan for their treatment going forward and will let doctors know how far the leukemia has infiltrated the body. To be more clear, some AML in children gets into their cerebrospinal fluid before the cancer is detected. A test that biopsies the cerebrospinal fluid and runs tests like cytogenetic testing and others will inform doctors if they will need to treat the AML differently than they would otherwise.

Cytogenetic analysis is one of the most effective and important tests to use to determine the AML sub-type. This test uses blood or bone marrow that is analyzed in detail under a microscope to look for chromosomal changes and abnormalities.

Immunophenotyping is even more effective at determining an AML sub-type, and uses an analysis of the blood for substances known as antigens. Other tests include molecular testing, complete blood count testing, and tumor biopsies.

Treatments for AML

Once your child's pediatric oncologist has all of the information that they need about your child's AML, they will recommend a treatment protocol. The primary treatment for AML is chemotherapy. However, the specific chemo drugs used may vary.

Because AML so dramatically affects your child's ability to fight off infections, as does the chemotherapy drugs they will be receiving, there is a good chance that your child will need to remain in the hospital for the duration of their chemotherapy treatments. This can mean a month or more of an extended stay in the hospital or cancer center.

When you visit your child receiving chemo, you may be required to wear a mask, and if you know you have been exposed to any viral or other infections, you will not be able to go visit until you are sure you are infection-free.

Other treatments can include bone marrow transplants, surgeries, blood transfusions, and other experimental treatments through clinical trials. Now that you know more about what lies ahead for your child and your family, you can better prepare yourself for the future and to help support and care for your child with AML.