Undifferentiated Acute Leukemia

Last Modified: November 5, 2006

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My son was diagnosed with acute undifferentiated leukemia. We cannot find any information on this [disease] or on treatment options. Can you help shed some light on this, and why this type of leukemia is treated as AML (acute myelogenous leukemia)?

Answer

Selina M. Luger, MD, Director of the Leukemia Program and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

It seems that they are calling this an acute leukemia that is not clearly lymphoid or myeloid, which are the two main types of acute leukemias. Generally, if a leukemia is definitely not lymphoid, it is thought that the best treatment is to manage it as an acute myeloid leukemia ( AML), at least initially. This is because this treatment has been found to be effective in all types of acute leukemia (even some acute lymphoid leukemia, or ALL, patients have been treated with AML therapy with an excellent response). However, the fact that it is an undifferentiated leukemia may affect the decisions regarding further treatment after the initial treatment. Other factors such as your son's age, chromosome studies on the bone marrow, response to initial therapy, and side effects from initial therapy will help determine the appropriate next treatment. I think it is important to get an opinion at a University Medical Center at some point. It is often not feasible to do so prior to initiation of therapy, if patients are not able to safely delay the start treatment. However, once recovered from this chemotherapy, I would recommend that you do get an opinion from an academic center, if he is not being treated at one already.