What is leukemia in children?
Leukemia in children, the most common type of cancer in children and adolescents, is a cancer of the white blood cells. Irregular white blood cells form in the bone marrow. They travel rapidly through the bloodstream and crowd out healthy cells. This increases the body’s chances of getting infections and other problems.
As difficult as it may be for a child to get cancer, it is good to know that most children and adolescents with leukemia in children can be successfully treated.
Types of leukemia in children
Almost all belongings of leukemia in children are acute, which means they develop rapidly. A small number are chronic and develop slowly.
Types of leukemia in children include:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL): Also known as acute lymphocytic leukemia. ALL versions for 3 out of 4 cases of childhood leukemia.
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML): AML is the next most corporate type of childhood leukemia.
- Leukemia of hybrid or mixed-lineage: This is occasional leukemia with features of both ALL and AML.
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML): CML is rare in children.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): CLL is very rare in children.
- Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML): This is a rare type that is neither chronic nor acute and occurs most often in children younger than 4 years old.
Things that make childhood leukemia more likely
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes most childhood leukemia. But certain things can increase your chances of getting it. However, keep in mind that having one of these things does not necessarily mean that a child will get leukemia. In fact, most children with leukemia have no known risk factors.
The risk of childhood leukemia increases if your child has:
- A genetic disorder such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, or Klinefelter syndrome
- A genetic immune system problem, such as ataxia-telangiectasia
- A brother or sister with leukemia, especially an identical twin
- History of exposure to high levels of radiation, chemotherapy, or chemicals such as benzene (a solvent)
- A history of immune system destruction, such as from an organ transplant
Although the risk is small, doctors say that children who have things that increase the likelihood of leukemia should have regular checkups to find any problems early.
Causes of leukemia in children
The exact cause of most childhood leukemias is unknown. Most children with leukemia do not have any well-known risk factors.
Still, scientists have learned that certain DNA changes within normal bone marrow cells can cause them to grow out of control and become leukemic cells. DNA is the chemical in our cells that makes up our genes, which regulator how our cells work. We generally resemble our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But our genes affect us more than our appearance.
Some genes controller when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die at the right time:
- Genes that help cells grow, divide, or stay animated are called oncogenes.
- Genes that help keep cell partition under control or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes.
Cancers can be caused by DNA mutations (or other types of changes) that keep oncogenes turned on or turn off tumor suppressor genes. These genetic changes can be inherited from a parent (as is sometimes the case with childhood leukemias), or they can occur randomly during a person’s life if cells in the body make mistakes dividing to produce new cells.
Risk factors of leukemia in children
A risk factor is anything that affects how likely a person will get a disease such as cancer. Different types of cancer have different risk factors.
Lifestyle-related risk factors such as tobacco use, diet, body weight, and physical activity play a role in many adult cancers. But these factors often take many years to influence cancer risk, and they are not believed to play a significant role in childhood cancers, including leukemias.
There are some known risk factors for childhood leukemia, which include:
Genetic risk factors: Genetic risk factors are those that are part of our DNA (the material that makes up our genes). They are often inherited from our parents. While some genetic factors increase the risk of childhood leukemia, most leukemias are not related to any known genetic cause.
Genetic syndromes: Some genetic illnesses increase a child’s risk of developing leukemia
Down syndrome (trisomy 21): Kids with Down syndrome have an extra (third) copy of chromosome 21. They are much more likely to develop acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML) than other children, with a general risk of about 2% to 3%. Down syndrome has also been linked to transient leukemia (also known as transient myeloproliferative illness), a disorder similar to leukemia during the first month of life, which often resolves on its own without treatment.
Li-Fraumeni syndrome: This is a rare inherited condition caused by a change in the TP53 gene. People with this change are at increased risk of developing several types of cancer, including leukemia, sarcomas of the bones or soft tissues, breast cancer, cancer of the adrenal glands, and brain tumors.
Symptoms of leukemia in children
Leukemia symptoms often prompt a visit to the doctor. This is good because it means that the disease can be detected earlier than it would otherwise. Early diagnosis can lead to more successful treatment.
Many signs and symptoms of childhood leukemia occur when leukemia cells crowd out normal cells.
Common symptoms include:
- Fatigue or pale skin
- Infections and fever
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
- Difficulty breathing
Other symptoms can include:
- Bone or joint pain
- Swelling in the abdomen, face, arms, armpits, sides of the neck, or groin
- Swelling above the collarbone
- Loss of appetite or weight loss.
- Headaches, seizures, balance problems, or abnormal vision
- Gum problems
Diagnosis of leukemia in children
To diagnose childhood leukemia, the physician will take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. The tests are used to diagnose childhood leukemia and classify its type.
Initial tests may include:
- Blood tests to quantify the number of blood cells and see how they appear
- Bone marrow ambition and biopsy, usually taken from the pelvic bone, to confirm a diagnosis of leukemia
- Lumbar puncture, or lumbar puncture, to check the spread of leukemic cells in the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord
A pathologist examines cells from blood tests under a microscope. This specialist also reviews bone marrow samples to determine the number of blood and fat-producing cells. Other tests may be done to help determine what type of leukemia your child may have. These tests also help doctors know how likely the leukemia is to respond to treatment.
Treatments for leukemia in children
Have an honest conversation with your child’s doctor and other members of the cancer care team about the best options for your child. Treatment depends mainly on the type of leukemia and other things.
Survival rates for most types of childhood leukemia have increased over time. And treatment in special centers for children and adolescents has the advantages of specialized care. Childhood cancers tend to respond to treatment better than adult cancers, and children’s bodies often tolerate treatment better.
Prevention of leukemia in children
There are very few known environmental or lifestyle-related causes of childhood leukemias, so it is important to know that in most cases there is nothing that these children or their parents could have done to prevent these cancers.
Departments to consult for this condition
- Department of pediatric oncology