Leukemia is a cancer that affects a type of blood cell. It develops in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. Leukemia makes the bone marrow create faulty white blood cells that do not work well. It can make it difficult for your body to fight infections. In addition, leukemia makes the marrow continues to make these blood cells even if there is not enough room for new cells. The leukemia cells build up in the bone marrow and make it difficult for healthy cells to grow.
There are different types of leukemia, but the two types that are most common in children are:
White Blood Cells
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Leukemia is causes by a problem with genes that determine how bone marrow cells work. It is not clear was causes the changes in the genes.
Factors that may increase a child's risk of leukemia include:
Common symptoms include:
These symptoms may be due to other conditions. If your child has any of these, talk to the doctor.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will check for swelling of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Leukemia can be diagnosed by identifying abnormal blood cells in:
Imaging tests may be done to look for infections or injuries caused by leukemia including:
Symptoms created by leukemia may need to be treated first. Treatment may include:
Treatment that targets the leukemia itself may one or a combination of the treatments below:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. May be used alone or with other treatments like radiation therapy.
Radiation is directed to a specific area to kill the cancer cells. May be used alone or with chemotherapy.
High doses of radiation and/or chemotherapy can destroy immature healthy blood cells. Transplantation will help the body build healthy cells again. Transplant options may include bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.
In bone marrow transplantation, the marrow may be removed, treated to kill cancer cells, and frozen. After treatment, the bone marrow is placed back into the body. The marrow may also be provided from a healthy donor. The marrow with leukemia will be removed and the donated marrow will be delivered after treatment.
Peripheral blood stem cell transplantation uses immature cells that are found in the blood. These cells are removed from the blood before chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Once treatment is done, the stem cells are then placed back into the blood. The immature cells will grow into healthy white and red blood cells.
There is no known way to prevent childhood leukemia.
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Last reviewed December 2013 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 1/13/2014