Leukemia interferes with the body’s production of white blood cells. These cells are supposed to fight infections with viruses or bacteria, and when someone has leukemia, they are defective and their number is largely increased, but because they are not fulfilling their role any more, although their number can increase ten times the body’s defense system is seriously weakened and any infection can be very dangerous.
Unfortunately leukemia can affect young children too, and the number of child leukemia cases keeps increasing.
There are two types of leukemia – acute leukemia – a cancer that develops and evolves very fast and it affects all the white blood cells, and chronic leukemia – it develops slower and healthy white blood cells can still be found.
More than 95% of the child leukemia cases are acute leukemia. Acute leukemia can also be divided into acute acute myelogenous leukemia and lymphocytic leukemia acute myelogenous leukemia because there are two types of blood cells, and each type of leukemia affects a different kind of blood cells. More than half of the children with leukemia have acute lymphocytic leukemia.
The symptoms of acute leukemia start with fever, and continue with many infections, because the child is weak against any damaging foreign microorganisms.
When the disease advances the child becomes anemic and begins to have a pale color. He will always feel a sensation of weakness and fatigue which will prevent him from playing outdoors.
All leukemia patients, including children can be bruised very easy, and the often bleed for no reason. When bleeding occurs it cannot be stopped for a long time because leukemia affects the cells responsible for healing wounds.
If the illness is not discovered and it is left untreated it starts spreading through the body and it can reach the brain, affecting some of the senses and causing headaches.
In order to diagnose child leukemia the child must go through a series of special tests. If the result is positive then therapy must begin as soon as possible. First some new tests must be performed to determine what kind of therapy works best. In most cases chemotherapy is used because it has the highest survival rate. Chemotherapy is also accompanied by drugs.
The purpose of the therapy is to heal the bone marrow, the organ that produces the defective blood cells and to kill all the malfunctioning cells from the body. If the therapy is successful it must still be continued because the cancer can re-appear.
In some more severe cases a bone marrow transplant is needed.
The good news is that therapy is getting better and better and most of the children survive this illness, but the survival rate depends on how far the cancer has advanced and on what form of it the child has.