Leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells that protects the body from infections. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common leukemia in children. (For a complete definition of leukemia and a description of this disease in adults see acute myeloid leukemia article).
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia affects the lymphocytes and cells that form them – lymphoblasts. Abnormal lymphoblasts cause the swelling of lymph glands and enter the bone marrow. Circulating through blood, lymphoblasts work on various parts of the body – liver, spleen, and the surface of the brain and spinal cord. In the bone marrow itself, leukemia cells interfere with the production of red blood cells, platelets and other white blood cells.
The main symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia are anemia, which is manifested by a stronger blush, fatigue and general weakness, thrombocytopenic purpura characterized by purple-red rash, limb pain, severe headaches, swollen glands in the neck (behind the jaw), enlarged spleen, sensitivity to infections, especially pneumonia, warts and ulcers in the mouth and throat.
Any form of leukemia in children is very rare, and only one out of every 10,000 children is diagnosed with leukemia annually.
Because of the recent advancement in treatment, children with leukemia have much better than ever before. However, treatment can be dangerous as the child may become sick due to severe infection. Because of the child’s weak resistance, the infection may be lethal.
What to do?
If you suspect that your child has leukemia, take it to a doctor who will examine it and possibly confirm your suspicion. If a physician can not immediately rule out the possibility of leukemia, he will send your child to a hospital for complete blood count (CBC) and bone marrow biopsy. Laboratory analysis will confirm or exclude leukemia.
The disease is treated in a hospital where the baby will first get a blood transfusion. The basic treatment consists of one or more cytostatic and corticosteroid administered in various combinations, in tablet form or intravenous infusion.
In most cases radiotherapy is also used, and any infection is treated with high doses of antibiotics.
In order to protect a child from severe infection, it will be separated from other patients and whenever you visit it, you will wear a mask. A small child may be confused and upset, so you should not act concerned in his / hers presence; instead, you should comfort your child. An older child will probably understand the seriousness of the disease.
In almost all cases, the treatment calms the symptoms after a few weeks. It is said that the disease is a remission, and you will probably be allowed to take your child home. In the course of next year, the child will have to go to checkups regularly and get medication to allow him to live as normal as possible.
If the symptoms reappear or worsen, your child will be re-admitted to hospital care.
It seems that it is possible to completely cure the disease today. Approximately 50% of children who have undergone intensive treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia have survived for at least 5 years, some of whom are still alive and healthy after much longer period of time.