Childhood leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in children and teens. Leukemia affects the body’s blood-forming tissues, which include bone marrow and the lymphatic system. When bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, they can hinder your body’s ability to fight off infection.
The oncology specialists at Children’s Blood & Cancer Center are equipped with the most advanced technology and medical techniques to help treat children and teens with leukemia. Being informed about the various types of leukemia, as well as the current treatment options can be a good first step in managing and treating this condition.
Wellness and Prevention
Although doctors are unsure of the exact causes of childhood leukemia, there may be a number of genetic and environmental risk factors that could increase a child’s risk of developing this disease. Keep in mind that having risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean that a child will develop leukemia. Some of these risk factors may include:
- A family history of leukemia
- An inherited immune system disorder
- A history of immune system suppression
- Exposure to high levels of radiation
There are different types of leukemia, including acute, chronic, lymphocytic and myelogenous. To accurately diagnose and classify childhood leukemia, doctors use a variety of tests:
- Physical exam to assess physical symptoms that may be present, including pale skin, swollen lymph nodes and enlarged liver or spleen
- Blood tests measure and analyze the number and condition of white blood cells
- Bone marrow tests draw a sample of bone marrow, usually from the hip bone, to test for leukemia cells
- Spinal tap to check for leukemia cells that may be present in the brain and spinal cord fluid
Treatment for leukemia can be complex and may vary depending on the specific type to be treated. In addition to the primary treatment used to eliminate leukemia cells, antibiotics or blood transfusions may also be necessary in order to fight off infection. Leukemia treatment for children and teens, continues to advance and generally has a high success rate.
Chemotherapy is the primary method of leukemia treatment, and involves the use of chemicals to kill harmful cells. Your doctor may recommend one or multiple medications, and these may be taken orally or injected directly into the bloodstream.
For certain types of leukemia, targeted therapy may be used. This method uses medications that hinder a specific action within leukemia cells, thus disabling them.
Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy radiation to damage and destroy cancer cells. This treatment may be used to help stop the spread of the disease into other areas of the body. Radiation therapy can be applied to the entire body, or only one target area.
Stem Cell Transplant
Through a stem cell transplant, unhealthy bone marrow cells are removed and then replaced with healthy, functioning cells from a donor. Prior to getting a stem cell transplant, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are typically combined to eradicate diseased bone marrow cells to prepare the body to receive the new healthy cells.
Following leukemia treatment, it’s important to maintain short-term and long-term follow-up appointments with your doctor to ensure a safe and effective recovery, as well as to keep an eye on any possible side effects that may result from treatment. These appointments typically consist of a physical exam, lab tests and, in some cases, imaging.
Within the first year after initial treatment, you can expect to see your doctor on a monthly basis. Over time, these check-ups can occur less frequently, but should still be maintained for at least five years after leukemia treatment. Maintaining follow-up visits with your doctor is an important step in leukemia treatment and recovery.