Leukemia -- Child

Leukemia is a cancer that affects a type of blood cell. It develops in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. Leukemia makes the bone marrow create faulty white blood cells that do not work well. It can make it difficult for your body to fight infections. In addition, leukemia makes the marrow continues to make these blood cells even if there is not enough room for new cells. The leukemia cells build up in the bone marrow and make it difficult for healthy cells to grow. There are different types of leukemia, but the two types that are most common in children are:

  • Causes

    Leukemia is causes by a problem with genes that determine how bone marrow cells work. It is not clear was causes the changes in the genes.

  • Definition

    Leukemia is a cancer that affects a type of blood cell. It develops in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. Leukemia makes the bone marrow create faulty white blood cells that do not work well. It can make it difficult for your body to fight infections. In addition, leukemia makes the marrow continues to make these blood cells even if there is not enough room for new cells. The leukemia cells build up in the bone marrow and make it difficult for healthy cells to grow.

    There are different types of leukemia, but the two types that are most common in children are:

    • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—creates an immature version of a white blood cell called lymphocytes. Will make the immune system weak.
    • Acute myeloid leukemia
      (AML)—creates an immature version of a myeloid cell which normally develops into white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. Can lead to problems with the immune system, anemia, and bleeding problems.
    White Blood Cells
    White Blood Cells
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will check for swelling of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Leukemia can be diagnosed by identifying abnormal blood cells in:

    • Blood tests
    • Bone marrow biopsy
      —a sample of bone marrow is removed to test for cancer cells

    Imaging tests may be done to look for infections or injuries caused by leukemia including:

    • CT scan
    • X-ray
    • Ultrasound
    • MRI scan

  • Prevention

    There is no known way to prevent childhood leukemia.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase a child's risk of leukemia include:


    • Exposure to some environmental and chemical factors such as:

      • Chemical benzene (used in the cleaning and manufacturing industries)

      • Some
        chemotherapy
        drugs

      • High doses of
        radiation
    • Having a sibling, especially an identical twin, who develops leukemia

    • Having a genetic condition, such as
      Down syndrome
      , Li-Fraumeni syndrome,
      Klinefelter syndrome
      , Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia,
      neurofibromatosis
      , Fanconi anemia

  • Symptoms

    Common symptoms include:

    • Bleeding or bruising—may appear as tiny red spots

    • Recurrent infections—may have fever, chills, and a
      cough
    • Bone and joint pain
    • Abdominal pain
    • Weight loss, loss of appetite
    • Swollen lymph nodes, swelling of the liver or spleen
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Rash, gum problems
    • Weakness and fatigue
    • Pale skin
    • Shortness of breath
    • Decreased energy

    These symptoms may be due to other conditions. If your child has any of these, talk to the doctor.

  • Treatment

    Symptoms created by leukemia may need to be treated first. Treatment may include:

    • Antibiotics to treat infections
    • Blood transfusion to treat severe anemia or bleeding

    Treatment that targets the leukemia itself may one or a combination of the treatments below: