Childhood leukemia also affects teens. It is the most common type of cancer in children under the age of 15, according to the National Cancer Institute in the United States. Around 4,000 children in the country are affected by leukemia each year.
Leukemia affects the blood cells. It causes white blood cells to develop in a person’s bone marrow. These then travel through the bloodstream and suppress the production of healthy blood cells.
A diagnosis of leukemia can be frightening, but survival rates continue to improve.
Common symptoms of childhood leukemia
If a child has any of the following symptoms, and a parent or caregiver suspects leukemia, it is essential to contact a doctor.
Anemia occurs when the body has a shortage of red blood cells.
Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body, and if someone is not producing enough, they may experience:
- pale skin
- feeling unusually cold
2. Frequent infections
Children with leukemia have a high white blood cell counts, but most of these cells are not functioning correctly. This is because abnormal cells are replacing healthy white blood cells.
White blood cells help to protect the body and fight off infections.
Recurrent and persistent infections can indicate that a child does not have enough healthy white blood cells.
In a child with leukemia, swelling can affect various parts of the body, including:
- The abdomen, when abnormal cells collect in the liver and spleen
- The face and arms, when pressure on a vein called the superior vena cava causes blood to pool in the area
- The lymph nodes, when a person notices small lumps forming on the sides of the neck, in the underarms, or on the collarbone
It is important to note that a child with swollen lymph nodes and no additional symptoms is more likely to have an infection than leukemia.
Also, tumors from other types of cancer are more likely to put pressure on the superior vena cava and lead to facial swelling. The swelling will be worse when a child wakes up, and it will improve during the day.
This is called superior vena cava syndrome, and it rarely occurs in cases of leukemia. However, it can be life-threatening, and it requires emergency care.
The earliest signs of leukemia can be hard to spot.
They can also vary from child to child, not all children with leukemia show the symptoms listed above.
Early symptoms also depend on whether a child has acute or chronic leukemia. The symptoms of acute leukemia often appear quickly, and they may be more noticeable. Those of chronic leukemia may be milder and develop gradually over time.
If a parent or caregiver notices any of the symptoms above, it is best to take the child to a doctor as soon as possible. A prompt diagnosis can ensure that the child receives the right treatment quickly.
However, many of these symptoms are common and can indicate a range of illnesses. The doctor will perform various tests and assessments before making a diagnosis.
Outlook and takeaway
There are different types of childhood leukemia. A child’s outlook will depend on the type and a range of other factors.
Regardless, catching and treating leukemia early can improve the outcome. It is important for a parent or caregiver to discuss any concerns about a child’s health with a doctor as soon as possible.
Doctors can now treat many cases of childhood leukemia successfully. Methods of treatment are advancing, and survival rates for some forms of the disease continue to improve.
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