Leukemia usually starts in the bone marrow, where white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells and platelets are produced. When, for certain reasons, the bone marrow starts making or producing a large number of white blood cells, the condition is termed as 'leukemia'. Every cell in the body is given a set of instructions such as when to grow, reproduce, mature, and die, by its DNA. Due to some reasons, the DNA develops mutation, and instructs the cell to grow and multiply rapidly without dying, unlike normal cells which die after a certain period of time. Such abnormal blood cells are known as 'leukemia cells'. They are not matured enough when they are produced thus, do not perform the work of normal white blood cells. They continue to reproduce themselves and over time, tend to crowd out or outnumber the normal blood cells. This, in turn, causes severe repercussions such as anemia, bleeding and infections. Scientists are unsure about what triggers such a mutation in the DNA.
Leukemia has its forms divided into four different types. They are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Among all these, children are mostly affected by ALL and AML.
Leukemia in Children
# The most common symptom of leukemia that is found in children is increased incidents of developing fevers and infections, and that too over a short space of time. This happens because the infection-fighting white blood cells are defective thus, do not provide any kind of protection against any attack of illness.
# Perspiration could become a common occurrence, and profuse during nights.
# The patient could develop tiny red spots on his/her skin.
# As mentioned earlier, leukemia in its later stage, results in the children becoming anemic. They may appear pale, and remain tired most of the time. They may also experience abnormal incidents of shortness of breath. This happens as the leukemia cells also affect the oxygen carrying red blood cells, which are being produced in the bone marrow. This may be accompanied by poor appetite and abnormal weight loss.
# Not only are the red-blood cells affected, the production of platelets is also hampered due to leukemia. Due to this, problems with blood clotting is also one common symptom of leukemia in kids. Frequent nosebleeds, bleeding for a longer period, and the tendency to bleed easily, are other symptoms.
# Affected kids may suffer from bone or joint pain. The pain arises due to the buildup of leukemia cells in the bone marrow. Note that, not every affected child has such kind of pain.
# The abnormal white blood cells may also get collected in the liver, kidney and spleen. The abnormal multiplication of the cells in these organs causes them to enlarge, and this leads to abdominal distress.
# Apart from suffering from dyspnea (difficult or labored respiration), swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck or groin are some symptoms that may surface.
Treatment for leukemia is governed by the patient's age, white blood cell count, and chromosomal abnormalities. It also varies according to the type of leukemia. However, chemotherapy is the common option for the treatment and this in some cases, is followed by radiation. Stem cell or bone marrow transplantation is the other form of therapy that most doctors prefer to employ for the treatment of leukemia. The main aim that goes behind the treatment is to destroy the leukemia cells, and restore the growth of normal cells in the bone marrow.
Depending on the severity of the disease, other forms of treatment may include intrathecal medications/chemotherapy, and biological therapy. Leukemia treatment may cause severe side effects in the body, and in order to prevent or treat the damage, the patient could be put on additional medications. Blood transfusion, to make up for the RBCs and platelets, and antibiotics to prevent infections, are also included in the treatment plan.
Symptoms of leukemia should not be ignored. They are important for getting the condition diagnosed and treated as early as possible. As with most types of cancers, the earlier the treatment is initiated, the brighter the prognosis is. Post-treatment, uninterrupted care and continuous follow-ups are necessary for a speedy recuperation for the patient.