Acute lymphoblastic leukemia includes T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). In children, T-ALL usually has a worse prognosis than B-ALL, although childhood T-ALL prognoses have improved remarkably. The varying outcomes among T-ALL cases suggest that an unrecognized biological heterogeneity may contribute to chemo-resistance. Deep exploration of T-lymphocyte development in recent years has found a subgroup of patients with a phenotype that resembles early T-cell precursor, which confers a much poorer prognosis than any other form of T-ALL. This novel subtype of T-ALL was called early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ETP-ALL). Flow cytometry data from T-ALL patients enrolled in Shanghai Children's Medical Center between July 2002 and October 2010 were assessed according to Dr. Campana's protocol. Among total 89 T-ALL cases, 74 cases had enough immunophenotype data available to differentiate between ETP (CD1a(-), CD8(-), CD5(dim), at least one marker of stem cell or myeloid lineage) and non-ETP. From these 74 subjects, 12 ETP-ALL cases (16.2%) were identified. The event-free survival (EFS) rate at 66.8 months was 11.1% ± 10.1% for ETP-ALL and 57.6% ± 5.6% for non-ETP-ALL (P = 0.003). The overall survival rates were 13.3% ± 11.0% for ETP-ALL and 64.7% ± 6.3% for non-ETP-ALL (P = 0.002). Our findings demonstrate that early T-cell precursor leukemia is a very high-risk subtype of acute lymphoblastic leukemia with poor prognosis.