Leukemia is known as the cancer of the blood cells. While the exact causes remain to be unknown, the symptoms of leukemia are a result of problems in the bone marrow, which is where the disease starts. As the cancer cells divide and eventually build up in the bone marrow, they tend to outnumber the normal blood cells; thus resulting in the decrease in the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Some of the most common symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, bruising, frequent infections, anemia (low RBC count), leukopenia (low WBC count), and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) (NOTE: Many of the symptoms of leukemia in children are caused by other factors, and most of the time, they are not caused by leukemia itself.
Prevalence of leukemia in children
Overall, leukemias are classified as either chronic or acute. In children, most types of leukemia are acute. Even if the overall occurrence is rare, leukemia is considered as the most common type of cancer that affects children. According to statistics, leukemia accounts for more than 26% of all cancers diagnosed in children below 15 years old.
- Within this percentage, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most frequent, accounting for more than 75% of all cases. Basically, ALL is common during early childhood, manifesting in children who are 2 to 4 years old.
- In terms of prevalence, ALL is followed by acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Cases of this type of leukemia are more stretched out across childhood but are more common in children aged 2 years old and in teenagers.
- The last type of leukemia, known as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), is the least common. Most of the time, it occurs more during teenage years than during childhood.
- In the United States alone, approximately one person gets diagnosed with leukemia every 3 minutes. On the other hand, approximately one person dies from leukemia every 9 minutes.
Novel treatment procedures for leukemia
With the advancements in technology, the survival rate for leukemia has greatly increased since it was first discovered. While there is still no way to prevent the disease, several treatments like chemotherapies, radiation therapies, and marrow transplantation are available.
- Usually, the type of treatment is highly dependent on the type of disease, characteristics of the cancer cells, as well as the health and age of patients.
- Sometimes, in children, chemotherapy drugs are administered directly to the cerebrospinal fluid. This method, known as intrathecal chemotherapy, is used in order to avoid the spread of leukemia to the brain and spinal cord.
- Interestingly, new technologies like immunotherapies are already available. In these types of treatment, the child’s immune system is given a boost to help in fighting against the cancer cells.
To date, scientists are making progress in understanding how alterations in the genes located inside the cells in the bone marrow that induces them to grow as cancer cells. Scientists and medical professionals are now studying how to use these changes to help them decipher children’s outlook and determine what type of treatment they should receive.