Leukemia Timeline

1962
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital opens. The cure rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of pediatric cancer, is four percent.

1966
Believing it is wrong to prolong treatment, physicians take five patients in remission off all medication. This event marked the first time ALL patients had been completely taken off therapy after achieving remission. The patients remained in remission.

1971
A combination of chemotherapy and cranial irradiation proves it can cure at least half of all children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This finding revolutionized leukemia therapy worldwide.

1975
A new drug combination found to be effective against leukemia that had recurred after initial treatment. This leads to improved therapy for hundreds of leukemia patients, especially those with a very high risk of early failure.

1975
First evidence found of the existence of different types of ALL in children. This research set the stage for what later became a revolution in the understanding and treatment of ALL.

1984
The curability of childhood leukemia is found to depend upon the availability of anticancer drugs within the body once they have been administered. Children who are able to retain drugs longer in higher concentrations are the ones most likely to become long-term survivors.

1991
Results published for a new treatment approach to ALL involving intensive induction therapy followed by more than two years of treatment with eight anti-cancer drugs used on a rotating basis. The findings show an increase in overall long-term survival from 50 to 73 percent, with notable advances in several of the toughest-to-cure groups (babies, adolescents and blacks).

1995
Survival rates for African-American children shown to have reached parity with Caucasian children when treated with protocol-based therapy. This improvement is mostly based on advances made in the survival rates for African-American children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

1997
Study establishes that bone marrow transplants from unrelated, genetically matched donors are as effective in treating childhood leukemia as those from patients’ brothers or sisters who are genetically matched. It was previously thought that bone marrow transplantation from unrelated donors was a more risky procedure. The finding is important because genetically matched bone marrow transplantation is effective against many childhood leukemias. However, less than a third of patients have a genetically matched sibling.

1998
Study reveals the cure rate for ALL has increased from 73 percent to 80 percent.

2002
Genetic screening technique using microarray chips is developed that should lead to dramatic improvements in diagnosis and treatment of ALL, and could lead to higher cure rates. The test is more than 95 percent accurate in diagnosing known ALL subtypes and can also identify previously unknown subtypes. Gene chip analysis also provides new prognostic information. This technique will allow doctors to save the most intensive treatments for patients who are at a high risk for relapse.

2003
Survivors of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who have not received radiation treatments as part of their therapy have virtually the same long-term health as the general population. The study defines "cure" for ALL patients as 10 or more years of continuous complete remission.

2003
Study finds that black children are as likely as white children to benefit from improved treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, if given equal access to the most advanced therapies. Even though black children treated at St. Jude in the past decade were more likely to have high-risk leukemia and be socioeconomically underprivileged, they enjoyed the same excellent treatment results as white children, and 80 percent of children of all races were cured.

2004
Researchers predict that the cure rate for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) might continue to rise with improved use of conventional therapies. But even more effective and less toxic therapies based on genetic and pharmacogenetic studies might one day push the success rate close to 100 percent.