Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. It is the most common childhood cancer. The National Institute of Health says the most prevalent type of leukaemia in children of all ages is acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL). The majority of the symptoms associated with childhood leukaemia are due to an inadequate supply of normal blood cells.
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The National Cancer Institute says risk factors for childhood leukaemia include having a sibling with the disease, inheriting certain genetic disorders and prior exposure to radiation or chemotherapy treatments. According to the Mayo Clinic, infants and children over age 10 are considered at a higher risk of developing leukaemia.
When leukaemia has been termed "acute" it means the disease is developing at an accelerated pace and if left untreated would most likely be fatal in a few months.
ALL is a cancer that starts from white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow, where new blood cells are created.
About 75 per cent of childhood leukaemia cases are of the ALL variety.
Acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML) make up most of the remaining 25 per cent of childhood leukaemia case. AML leukaemia develops in the cells that form white blood cells (other than lymphocytes), red blood cells, or platelets.
Many of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia provided by the American Cancer Society can also be due other problems.
Fatigue, Fever & Infection
A child with leukaemia may be very tired and experience a shortness of breath. He or she may also have a high fever and an infection that fails to heal with antibiotics.
Increased Proneness to Bruising & Bleeding
A child with leukaemia may bruise easily, and there may be bleeding from the gum's as well as small red spots on the skin caused by bleeding from tiny blood vessels. They may also have periods of excessive coughing.
Swelling of the Face, Arms & Lymph Nodes
As leukaemia cells grow and multiple they may begin to push on a large vein that transports blood from the head and arms to the heart. This pressure can result in swelling of the head, arms and upper chest.
If leukaemia has spread to the lymph nodes, there may be swelling on the sides of the neck, under the arms, in the groin and possibly above the collarbone.
Unlike most other cancers, surgery is not a conventional method of treating leukaemia. Because leukaemia is a disease of blood and bone marrow, it cannot be cured or managed with surgery.
Childhood leukaemia is generally treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. The doses and length of treatment will vary depending on the type of leukaemia that's been diagnosed.
Bone marrow and blood stem cell transplantation may be used in some cases.
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