Leukaemia in Children
Leukaemia refers to cancers of the white blood cells (also called WBCs). When someone suffers from leukaemia, a large numbers of abnormal white blood cells are produced in their bone marrow, which over crowd the marrow and spread into the bloodstream. They are unable to perform their proper role of protecting the body against diseases because they have become defective.
Types of Leukaemia
Generally speaking, leukaemias are classified into chronic (slowly developing) and acute (rapidly developing) forms. In children, the maximum cases of leukaemias are acute.
Acute childhood leukaemia is further divided into two categories – acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Their classification depends on whether specific white blood cells (lymphyocytes or myelocytes) are involved or not.
The acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is most common in younger children between the ages of 2 to 8, but it is known to affect all age groups. Acute myeloid leukaemia can occur at any age, but it is usually more common before the ages of 2.
Because the infection fighting white blood cells are defective, children with leukaemia may suffer from more viral or bacterial infections than normal. They also may become anaemic as the leukaemia affects their bone marrow’s production of oxygen carrying red blood cells (RBCs). This will make them appear pale and they might become unusually tired and even short of breath while playing.
Children with leukaemia are also susceptible to bruising and bleeding very easily, experiencing nosebleeds or even bleeding for an unusually long period of time after even a minor cut. This happens because leukaemia destroys the bone marrow’s ability to produce platelets, which form clots.
Other symptoms can include:
- Experiencing pain in your bones or joints, which may sometimes causing a limp
- Swollen lymph nodes (also called swollen glands) in your groin, underarms or neck
- Feeling unusually tired
- Poor appetite
- Fevers with no further symptoms
- Abdominal pain
Doctors conduct a physical examination to check for signs of infection, anaemia, swollen lymph nodes and abnormal bleeding. They might also touch your child’s abdomen to check for enlarged liver and spleen because this happens in certain childhood cancers.
After these exams are done, a CBC (complete blood count) is ordered to measure the numbers of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in the bloodstream of your child. Also, blood smears are examined under a microscope to look out for certain specific types of abnormal blood cells, which are usually seen in patients with leukaemia.
Treatment for leukaemia in children is carried out by a team of specialists, which includes oncologists, nurses, psychologists, surgeons, and other health care professionals. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for it, although the dosages and drug combinations may differ according to the stages of the cancer the children are suffering from. Chemotherapy can be done orally (by mouth), into a vein, or via the spinal fluid.
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