Child Leukemia

C A N C E R   I N F O R M A T I O N

Leukemia in Childhood

Leukemia is a disease involving white blood cell forming organs of the body.

White blood cells or leukocytes are involved in the immune response of the body to infection and inflammation. They vary in type and circulate in the blood stream in association with red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen.

Leukemia is characterised by the circulation of abnormal white cells and the type of leukemia upon the type of white cell involved.

The cause of leukemia is unknown and unlike leukemia in adults, childhood leukemia is nearly always of the acute variety. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) accounts for approximately 80% of leukemia in childhood and acute myeloblastic leukemia for most of the remainder. There is a rare congenital type of leukemia occurring in the first four weeks of life.

Leukemia in childhood occurs more frequently in the young female than the male. American figures quote the ratio as one male to four female cases with the peak age of occurrence between the ages of 3 and 4.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, usually comes on gradually over a period of 3 to 4 weeks.

Symptoms include malaise and tiredness, fever and loss of appetite and colour. Bruising may occur with the slightest of bumps and bleeding also can be a feature of the disease, together with bone, joint and abdominal pain. Small pinpoint skin hemorrhages may be present.

Childhood glandular fever and other viral conditions may be confused with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Diagnosis is confirmed by examining the blood and bone marrow.

CT scanning used to determine spread of the leukemia cell to other organs where they multiply and destroy the normal function of that particular organ.

Treatment can include chemotherapy, the use of corticosteroids, radiation therapy, intensive antibiotic therapy for recurring infections, bone marrow transplants and blood transfusions.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in a male child occurring before the age of 2 years or after the age of 10 years, appears to need more intensive treatment but the cure rate in children over recent years has improved tremendously.

American statistics quote a figure of up to 60%. The reason for this is thought to be due to more efficient diagnosis and treatment. There is no evidence of an increase in birth defects among children born to parents previously treated for leukemia.

Acute and Chronic Myeloblastic leukemia’s are less common in children than Lymphoblastic leukemia, which is fortunate, as these diseases have a worse outlook. It is more difficult to obtain a remission and cure rates are lower.

The diagnosis and treatment is along the same lines as with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia although bone marrow transplants from a suitable donor appear to hold out the best hope for a temporary remission of the conditions.

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