Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) often develop bone pain, abnormal gait, and unusual fractures while in remission and receiving continuing chemotherapy. A prospective longitudinal cohort study was undertaken of bone mass and biochemical mineral status in 40 consecutive children (27 male, 13 female, aged 0.3-17.0 years) receiving therapy on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute protocol 87-01. Radiography, lumbar spine dual-photon absorptiometry, and biochemical measurements of mineral status were performed at diagnosis and at 6-month intervals throughout 24 months of chemotherapy. Eleven patients were not completely evaluated (4 deaths and 7 off study). Radiographic evidence of osteopenia was observed in 10, 64, and 76% at diagnosis, 12 and 24 months, respectively. Fractures occurred in 39% of children during treatment. Reduction in bone mineral content (BMC), as measured by Z scores, occurred in 64% of patients and was most severe in those greater than 11 years of age at diagnosis. Reduction in BMC during the first 6 months of therapy had a positive predictive value of 64%, while an increase in BMC had a negative predictive value of 82% for subsequent fracture. By 6 months of therapy, 31/37 (84%) children were hypomagnesemic, of whom 16 (52%) were hypermagnesuric. Plasma osteocalcin was subnormal at diagnosis in 29/40 (73%) but increased to normal by 6 months of treatment. Vitamin D status was normal throughout, but plasma 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D remained subnormal in greater than 70% of children. Urinary cross-link N-telopeptide was normal at diagnosis and became elevated in 58% of children by the end of therapy. Suppressed bone mineralization is evident at diagnosis in a minority of children with ALL. Skeletal morbidity and a reduction in bone mineral mass become more prevalent during treatment, with increased bone resorption, perhaps mainly as a consequence of corticosteroid administration.