Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It affects white blood cells. These abnormal cells can go through the bloodstream and crowd out normal blood cells in the bone marrow.
There are two main types of leukemia. The first type is the fast growing kind called acute leukemia. The second kind is slow growing and called chronic leukemia. Almost all of the childhood cases are the fast growing kind of leukemia.
The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your child's chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms for a time. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that your child has.
The cancer starts in the bone marrow. Marrow is the soft, fatty tissue inside hard bone. The marrow is where blood cells are formed.
With leukemia, your child's body makes too many abnormal cells that crowd out other, normal blood cells.
The cancer can also spread to other parts of your child's body.
The exact cause of leukemia is not known. Having a parent, brother, or sister with leukemia increases the risk. High levels of radiation or certain chemicals may result in changes to the genes in the blood cells and increase the risk.
Your child may have no symptoms or just mild symptoms at first. The symptoms slowly get worse. Symptoms may include:
Your child's healthcare provider will do a physical exam and ask about your child’s medical history, including symptoms and possible risk factors. Possible tests include:
When the blood and bone marrow tests confirm a diagnosis of leukemia, more tests may be done before your child starts treatment to see if the cancer has spread. Tests that may be done include:
You and your healthcare provider will discuss possible treatments for your child. You may also talk with a cancer specialist. Some things to think about when making treatment decisions are:
Possible treatments include:
Your child's treatment will also include:
Often, more than 1 type of treatment is used. Your child will need to have regular follow-up visits with his or her healthcare provider.
Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials that might be available to your child. Clinical trials are research studies to find effective cancer treatments. It’s always your choice whether your child takes part in one or not.
If your child has been diagnosed with leukemia:
It may also help if your child:
Counseling and support groups can help children and parents cope with the situation and help the family adjust to the changes in their lives.
For more information, contact: