Leukemia in children: Symptoms, treatment and prevention

Incidences of leukemia are on the rise among children. This International Childhood Cancer Day, here’s everything you need to know about leukemia in children.

Leukemia, characterised by abnormal proliferation of white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow, is a devastating form of cancer that affects children of all ages. It accounts for approximately 30 percent of all pediatric cancer cases in India, making it the most prevalent childhood cancer. Leukemia disrupts the body’s ability to produce healthy blood cells, compromising the immune system’s function and increasing susceptibility to infections. Early detection of leukemia is crucial as it enables prompt treatment initiation, preventing disease progression, and allowing tailored treatment plans.

Symptoms of leukemia

While these symptoms may vary depending on the type and stage of the disease, common signs of leukemia include:

1. Fatigue and weakness

Children with leukemia may experience persistent fatigue and weakness, even after adequate rest.

cancer in children
Being tired all the time is a sign of leukemia in children. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

2. Frequent infections

Leukemia compromises the immune system, making children more susceptible to infections. Recurrent infections such as cold, flu, and respiratory infections, may occur.

3. Unexplained fever

Persistent or recurrent fevers without any apparent cause could be a sign of leukemia, as the abnormal growth of white blood cells can lead to fever spikes.

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4. Easy bruising or bleeding

Children with leukemia may bruise easily or experience prolonged bleeding from minor cuts or injuries due to low platelet counts.

5. Bone and joint pain

Leukemia can cause bone and joint pain, particularly in the long bones of the arms and legs. Children may complain of pain or discomfort, especially during physical activities or at night.

6. Swollen lymph nodes

Enlarged lymph nodes, particularly in the neck, armpits, or groin, may indicate leukemia or another underlying condition.

7. Abdominal symptoms

Leukemia can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, or swelling due to enlarged organs such as the liver or spleen.

8. Decreased appetite and weight loss

Children with leukemia may experience a significant decrease in appetite, leading to unintentional weight loss over time.

Risk factors of leukemia in children

While leukemia can occur without identifiable risk factors, certain factors may increase a child’s susceptibility to the disease. These include genetic syndromes, prenatal exposure to radiation or certain chemicals, immune system disorders, and a family history of leukemia or cancer.

Also Read: Children with Down syndrome are at a higher risk of leukaemia

Diagnostic tests to detect leukemia in children

Upon suspicion of leukemia, diagnostic tests are crucial for confirming the diagnosis. These tests may include blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) and peripheral blood smear, bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, imaging studies like X-rays or CT scans, and genetic testing to identify specific genetic abnormalities associated with leukemia.

A cancer survivor with mother
Childhood cancer can be treated with timely intervention. Image courtesy: Freepik

Treatment and prognosis of leukemia in children

The treatment approach for childhood leukemia depends on factors such as the type of leukemia, the child’s age and overall health, and the extent of disease spread. Treatment options may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplant, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. With advancements in medical technology and treatment protocols, the prognosis for childhood leukemia has significantly improved in recent years. Many children with leukemia achieve remission and go on to lead healthy, productive lives with appropriate treatment and supportive care.

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in detecting leukemia in children by recognizing potential signs and symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention for further evaluation. Regular wellness check-ups and open communication with healthcare providers are essential for maintaining children’s health and well-being.