Leukaemia is a type of cancer that causes an overproduction of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow. Advanced leukaemia affects the production of other blood cells, including platelets and red blood cells. This effect on blood cells is responsible for the most common childhood leukaemia symptoms, such as anaemia and easy bruising. In acute lymphocytic leukaemia and acute myelogenous leukaemia, which account for nearly all cases of childhood leukaemia, symptoms develop over a period of just days or weeks. Approximately one-fourth of cancers during childhood are leukaemia, but the cure rate for this cancer is very high. Early identification of symptoms and proper treatment results in a good outcome.
More than 2,200 American children are affected by leukaemia each year, and approximately 98 per cent of leukaemia in children are acute.
Childhood leukaemia symptoms include anaemia, recurrent infections, joint and bone pain, swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain, bruising and difficulty breathing.
In acute leukaemia, symptoms may develop rapidly and become severe quickly, whereas chronic leukaemia may cause little or no symptoms for months or years.
When leukaemia is caused by prior cancer treatment, genetic conditions or the use of immunosuppressive medications, regular medical checkups can detect very early symptoms of leukaemia.
In some children, leukaemia may spread to the brain, causing headaches, problems with balance and coordination, seizures or abnormal vision.