The treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in children with Down's syndrome (DS) has engendered considerable controversy. Because of the concerns for toxicity and increased rate of infections, treatment approaches varied considerably in the past with mixed results. However, experience on the recently completed Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) 8498 AML study suggests that DS children with AML constitute a distinct subgroup that responds well to therapy. Twelve of 285 children on POG 8498 (protocol for newly diagnosed AML) had DS. Children with DS and AML were predominantly male (9 of 12) and were quite younger at diagnosis (< 24 months in 10). The white blood cell count was less than 50 x 10(3)/microL in all 12 and French-American-British types M6 and M7 were frequent (5 of 12). An abnormal cytogenetic marker, in addition to constitutional trisomy 21, was present in 9 of 12 and involved chromosome 8 in 4 of 9. All cases studied (n = 5) were positive for myeloid cell surface markers (CD33, CD13, or CD11b) and, interestingly, were also positive for the CD7 antigen. Chemotherapy included daunorubicin, cytarabine (Ara-C), and 6-thioguanine for remission induction and featured high-dose Ara-C (3 g/m2 per dose) with or without L-asparaginase early in remission. Compared with children without DS, children with DS had a superior event-free survival (EFS at 4 years 100% v 28% +/- 6.2%; P = .003). The EFS remained superior even when compared with non-DS children less than 2 years of age with a white blood cell count less than 10 x 100,000/microL (100% v 48% +/- 17.3%; P = .01).