Pediatric leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells which occurs in children. There are a number of different types of pediatric leukemia, each of which requires a slightly different treatment approach, and the prognosis for children who have been diagnosed varies, depending on the age of the child, the type of leukemia, and the stage at which it has been identified. Around 25% of all childhood cancers are forms of leukemia.
This type of cancer occurs when abnormal growth occurs in the white blood cells of the bone marrow. Leukemia typically involves a particular type of white blood cell, which proceeds to crowd out healthy and normal cells, eventually causing bleeding disorders and other symptoms as the body is flooded with the abnormal cells. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to death, typically as a result of the invasion of the brain and spinal cord by the cancerous cells.
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Leukemia can be broken into acute leukemia, in which the onset of the condition is very rapid, or chronic leukemia, in which onset occurs slowly. Around 98% of children who develop leukemia experience acute pediatric leukemia, which is characterized by joint pain, fatigue, bruising, and clotting disorders. The most common type of acute leukemia in children is acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This type of pediatric leukemia involves the B and T cells.
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), another type of pediatric leukemia, involves the granulocytes, another type of white blood cell. More rarely, children can experience chronic myelogenous leukemia.
When a child is diagnosed with pediatric leukemia, usually as the result of bloodwork and biopsies, he or she is usually subjected to chemotherapy and radiation which are designed to kill the rogue cells. In some cases, it may be necessary to perform a bone marrow transplant to provide the body with a supply of normal, healthy bone marrow which can produce healthy white blood cells. Preventative measures may also be taken to limit the spread of the leukemia to the brain and spinal cord.
Treatment for pediatric leukemia is generally supervised by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in childhood cancers. Different oncologists may have different approaches to treatment, and parents may want to consider meeting with several doctors to find one with a treatment approach which meets their needs. Although pediatric patients are usually not given control over their medical treatment, parents may find that their children are more cooperative with treatment when they are given a chance to participate in decision making and other medical discussions.