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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Children: Care Instructions


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is cancer of the blood cells. It is the most common cancer in children. Newer treatments are helping children to live longer.

In ALL, the body starts making abnormal white blood cells that can crowd out the healthy blood cells. This makes a child more likely to bleed, get infections, and not have enough red blood cells (anemia).

Treating this type of leukemia may take several years. It usually involves medicines, such as chemotherapy. In some cases, radiation, a stem cell transplant, or gene therapy may be needed. Your child may have side effects from treatment, such as nausea and tiredness. Your child's care team will work with you to help your child feel better and to prevent infections.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child take any medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine. Your child may get medicine for nausea and vomiting.
  • Give your child healthy food. If your child does not feel like eating, serve food that has protein and calories to keep up your child's strength and weight. Try a liquid meal replacement for extra calories and protein. Milk shakes are also good choices. Your child's appetite may be better early in the day. Try giving your child the main meal early.
  • Let your child have plenty of time to play during the day. Cancer treatment can be hard, but children still need to feel like kids.
  • Put your child to bed early enough to get plenty of rest.
  • Give your child lots of fluids. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Gastrolyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Give these drinks as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea. Do not use them as a sole source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if diarrhea or vomiting lasts longer than a day.
  • When your child is feeling better, offer clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • Try to keep your child away from people who have a cold, influenza (flu), or other diseases that can be spread. Wash your hands often.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

Call your cancer clinic nurse (during regular clinic hours) or oncologist on-call (after hours) now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has abnormal bleeding.
  • You think your child has an infection.
  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child has new symptoms, such as a cough, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.

Where can you learn more?

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