Symptoms of Leukemia in Children

Being able to determine the early symptoms of leukemia in children is the key in fighting the disease. As with all types of cancers, early detection increases the chances of cure and survival.

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Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells. In this illness, there is an abnormal increase in white blood cell production, while the healthy red blood cells decrease in number. There are many types of leukemia. The most common types that affect children are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). All forms of leukemia, however, share many common signs and symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of leukemia in children

Because leukemia affects a component of the blood, leukemia cells are able to travel throughout the body causing a number of symptoms. Symptoms of leukemia in children include the following:

• Increase in fevers and infections

A child with leukemia is often ill. Though many, the white blood cells are immature and do not function normally, hence, weakening the child’s immune system.

• Anemia

Anemia occurs when the red blood cell count decreases to abnormal levels. Children with anemia are often weak, tire easily, and pale.

• Abdominal distress

Leukemia cells may collect in the kidneys, liver, or spleen, causing enlargement. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and significant weight loss may occur.

• Swollen Lymph Nodes

Leukemia may cause swelling of the lymph nodes, which appear as painless bumps on the neck, underarms, stomach, or groin.

Petechiae, easy bruising and bleeding

Leukemia decreases blood platelets, which function to prevent bleeding. A child with leukemia may bleed and bruise easily. Small blood vessels and capillaries may also burst and bleed, causing the appearance of red rash all over the child’s body, known as petechiae.

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Other signs and symptoms may include headache, pain below the ribs, bone/joint pain, shortness of breath, and the appearance of painless lumps around the eyes.

Causes of leukemia in children

There is no singular cause for leukemia. However, many factors contribute to its occurrence. Heredity is considered as the most significant factor that may cause the disease. A family history of leukemia or other cancers greatly predisposes an adult or child to leukemia. Leukemia in children may be caused by their mother’s exposure to harmful substances while pregnant. These include smoking, radiation exposure, drug effects, and a faulty lifestyle.

Diagnosis of leukemia

Leukemia is diagnosed by a combination of laboratory tests, physical examination, and a review of the child’s past medical history. Blood tests, bone marrow biopsies and spinal or lumbar taps are usually conducted. X-rays, MRI, CT scans are also taken to check for masses or lumps in certain parts of the body.

Treatment of leukemia in children

Treatment is aimed at destroying the cancer cells. Chemotherapy utilizes drugs that are injected into the blood stream to kill the abnormal cells. Radiation therapy uses high energy rays to kill the cancer cells and shrink tumors. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy target cancer cells, but they can also affect healthy cells. Side effects like hair loss, mouth sores, and vomiting will most likely occur. In cases where the bone marrow is affected, bone marrow transplant may become another option.

Early symptoms of leukemia in children may sometimes appear non-specific. Parents must pay close attention to how their children are feeling. Early detection is vital for a good prognosis of this disease.

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