The following article lays down random facts about childhood leukemia. Read ahead to look at this phenomenon from a closer angle.
Those of you who are not aware of the details of this illness, leukemia is a cancerous condition that affects the production and maturation of white blood cells which are present in the bloodstream as well as in the bone marrow. The white blood cells exhibit an abnormal growth spurt in which mostly immature cells are produced. The rate of multiplication of the immature white blood cells is many times greater than the rate of cellular death or wear off.
These immature white blood cells keep reproducing despite there being insufficient space to accommodate the extra load in the blood stream. This causes the blood platelet count to dwindle dangerously, leading to massive damage of the bone marrow coupled with decreased ability of the affected individual’s body to form clots, leading to excessive bleeding of even minor cuts or wounds and abnormal bruising. Now that the premises of leukemia are more or less clear, let’s proceed to the next segment to take a look at random facts pertaining to childhood leukemia.
Childhood Leukemia Facts
- Similar to adult leukemia, childhood leukemia can be acute as well as chronic, with immature white blood cells growing and reproducing more rapidly in the former than the latter condition. However, in children, leukemia is mostly of the acute variant.
- Childhood acute leukemia is further classified into three categories – acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), acute mylelogenous leukemia (AML) and hybrid leukemia. In ALL, the problem starts in the lymphocyte forming cells, while in case of AML, the issue begins with the non lymphocytic cells that form WBCs, RBCs and platelets. Hybrid leukemia is a combination of both ALL and AML, where both lymphocytic as well as non lymphocytic mother cells are affected.
- Of the three types of childhood leukemia, ALL is the most common, covering as much as 70% of all incidences of childhood leukemia. The remaining 30% comprises AML and Hybrid leukemia.
- A rarer form of leukemia, Juvenile Myelo Monocytic Leukemia (JMML), occurs in very young children, who are mostly under the age of 4 years. It can be acute as well as chronic.
- Since an excess of white blood cells pushes the red blood cell numbers on the wrong side, it is not unusual for a child suffering from leukemia to feel exhausted and weak most of the time. Also, a drop in the red blood cells count leads to paling of the skin as well, along with inflammation of the lymph nodes due to excess of WBCs in the blood stream.
- Whether or not a child gets leukemia depends more on genetic and hereditary factors, rather than other external or environmental issues such as radiation, exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, etc. That means, if either or both the parents of the child or any of its siblings has leukemia, chances are high that he / she will get it as well. The sibling-related chances are even higher if that sibling happens to be a twin!
- Pre or post natal immune deficiencies of the child as well as exposure to alcohol or cigarette smoke (especially before birth, through the mother’s blood stream) increases the risk of a child to get sick with leukemia.
- Studies of statistics on vaccination against diseases such as Hepatitis and polio have shown that children who had been vaccinated showed less susceptibility to leukemia even when they reached adulthood. This sort of indicates towards something to do with biological pathogens and immune system functions, though no such link has been confirmed yet.
- Leukemia is one of the most common types of childhood cancers, and accounts for as much as 30% of all juvenile cancer cases.
- In the US alone, approximately 3,500 cases, on an average, of childhood leukemia are recorded each year!
- At present, chemotherapy and stem cell transplant are the only available alternatives for treating childhood leukemia. Lately, bone marrow transplant as well as replacement of umbilical cord blood have shown positive results in lessening the intensity of this condition, and enabling the affected individual to lead a healthier, more normal life.
- Besides exhaustion and inflammation of the lymph nodes, other common symptoms of childhood leukemia include loss of appetite, which is caused by inflammation and pain of the abdomen. Bone and joint pain are also commonly complained of.
Parents should be alert to all the aforementioned symptoms in their children, especially if a previous case or history of leukemia exists in the family. If any of these suspicious symptoms persist for more than 5 – 7 days, a doctor should be consulted without further delay. Tests for diagnosing leukemia include taking a complete blood count, getting a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy done, taking a spinal tap and lymph node biopsy.
Testing the blood chemistry as well as evaluating the functions of vital organs such as the liver and kidneys may also be included. Before signing off, I’d like to share one of the most important facts about childhood leukemia – getting an early diagnosis and commencing treatment immediately has shown to be highly effective in reducing the intensity of leukemia in children, besides allowing them to enjoy better health.