Leukemia: The Most Common Childhood Cancer
While leukemia affects adults as well as children, leukemia is the most common cancer among children and teenagers, accounting for 34% of all childhood cancer. The majority of childhood leukemia is acute, the American Cancer Society expressed. This includes acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), and a hybrid of the two. ALL originates in the lymphoid cells of the bone marrow while AML begins in the myeloid cells that form red and white blood cells along with platelets. Chronic leukemias, which take longer to grow, are much more common in adults and very rare in adolescents.
Causes of Childhood Leukemia
While this disease is a devastating diagnosis for parents and children to hear, childhood leukemia can be successfully treated. There is no single cause for childhood leukemia, but a significant number of cases are related to specific chromosomal translocations, resulting in the activation or inactivation of specific genes that are associated with the development of leukemia. In addition, exposure to radiation or certain types of chemotherapy is also associated with an increased risk of childhood leukemia.
Symptoms of the Condition
If a child exhibits any of the symptoms of leukemia, it is vital to visit the doctor right away. Early diagnosis will allow for a better chance at survival and treatment of the disease. Some common signs of leukemia include fatigue or weakness, pale skin, fever, bleeding, bruising, and infection.
Other symptoms a child may experience include shortness of breath and coughing, bone or joint pain, vomiting, headaches, seizures, swelling in face, arms, or abdomen, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
At first, a child will be taken through a physical exam and the doctor will assess medical history when diagnosing childhood leukemia. The typical diagnostic tests usually performed are: blood tests, bone marrow aspirations and biopsies, and a lumbar puncture to check for spread of leukemia cells in the fluid.
If a child is diagnosed with leukemia, some of these tests may need to be repeated in the future to see the body’s response to treatment.
Treatments and Cures
Treatment of leukemia depends on the specific type of leukemia, and therefore on accurate diagnosis is important. ALL is typically treated first with aggressive chemotherapy to put the cancer into remission and then with consolidation/intensification therapy and maintenance therapy. The specific regimens used are generally based on an analysis of the cytogenetics of each individual leukemia and an assessment of the aggressiveness of the disease.
In AML, the pattern of treatment is similar, with induction of remission being the first priority, followed by a post-induction schedule, but the initial analysis of the specific subtype of AML plays a greater role in the choice of agents used.
Improvements in the understanding of childhood leukemia have improved survival rates from 50% to 85% in the last few decades, and it is expected that future pre-clinical research will sustain drug development and improve the rates of survival among children with leukemia. Clinical studies continue to bring hope to the eradication of leukemia.
- Subscribe to our blog to stay up-to-date on the latest pre-clinical news and topics.
- Contact us today to learn how we can meet your drug discovery needs with timely pre-clinical research excellence.