Leukemia is cancer of the blood that most often develops in white blood cells. It is the most common form of the disease found in children, mainly affecting those between 2 and 6 years old. Leukemia is responsible for approximately 35% of the cancers diagnosed in children from newborn-14 years old.
The most common forms of leukemia that occur in children are:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL): This type affects the white blood cells known as lymphocytes. ALL affects nearly 80% of children diagnosed with leukemia.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): This form of leukemia forms in blood cells that are supposed to mature into functioning red blood cells. AML affects approximately 15 to 20 percent of children diagnosed with leukemia.
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Chronic myeloid leukemia
- Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia
Leukemia Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms can vary from patient to patient, but the most common are:
- Weight loss: If the stomach or spleen becomes enlarged, they may press against the stomach and limit the amount of food the child is able to eat.
- Fatigue: Anemia, or a shortage of red blood cells, is a common symptom of leukemia, and can result in the child feeling tired or dizzy.
- Infections and fever: The child may not get over either of these easily because of the high number of abnormal infection-fighting white blood cells.
- Easy bleeding or bruising: The child may bruise easily because of a shortage of platelets in the red blood cells, which fill holes in those cells.
- Swollen lymph nodes:
- Pain in the bones or joints: Caused by a buildup of cells near the bone’s surface or in the joint.
If a doctor suspects that a child has leukemia, they order a complete physical exam. Following those results, one of four tests is conducted:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Bone marrow aspirate and biopsy
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- Chest x-ray
For children, doctors often treat the symptoms associated with leukemia, such as anemia or any infections that may have developed. To treat the disease itself, doctors rely on one (or a combination) of the following treatment methods:
- Intrathecal medications
- Blood or marrow transplant
- Blood transfusions
- Antibiotic therapy