In this population-based material from the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), 2860 children below 15 years of age were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) from July 1981 to June 1998. The annual incidence was 3.9/100,000 children and was stable throughout the study period. The development from regional or national protocols to common Nordic treatment protocols for all risk groups was completed in 1992 through a successive intensification with multidrug chemotherapy, including pulses of methotrexate in high doses and avoidance of cranial irradiation in most children. The overall event-free survival (EFS) at 5 years has increased from 56.5 +/- 1.7% in the early 1980s to 77.6 +/- 1.4% during the 1990s. The main improvements were seen in children with non-high risk leukemia. In high-risk patients, progress has been moderate, especially in children with high WBC (> or =100 x 10(9)/l) at diagnosis. During the last time period (January 1992-June 1998), only 10% of the patients have received cranial irradiation in first remission, while 90% of the patients have received pulses of high dose methotrexate (5-8 g/m2) isolated or combined with high-dose cytosine arabinoside (total dose 12 g/m2) plus multiple intrathecal injections of methotrexate as CNS-targeted treatment, not translating into increased cumulative incidence of CNS relapse.