Leukemia in Children: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment (2018)


Every year, in the USA, about thirty-five percent of children are diagnosed with leukemia and this amount to about four thousand children approximately. The reason for this is that children are commonly affected by leukemia, which is a disease of the bone marrow but generally called cancer of the blood. Although, this devastating ailment can occur at any age young kids between the ages of two years and eight years are the most affected. Leukemia in children occurs in male kids more than female counterparts. In fact, children of other races experience a minor attack, unlike the Caucasian kids, do.

Now, do you want to know how to detect leukemia in a child? Let us take a glimpse at the symptoms in children.

Symptoms of Leukemia in Children

In most cases, it is challenging to determine an attack of leukemia in children, as this varies from child to child, but chronic leukemia develops significant effects gradually and slowly.  However, the signs of acute leukemia are bound to appear quickly on the patient, but if you are not careful, you may mistake them for other childhood illnesses.

Furthermore, experts have opined that even a child developing these symptoms does not necessarily imply an attack. Here are some signs of leukemia attacks on children:

Pains in the Bones and Joints

Leukemia in Children

When blood cells multiply, by reproducing at an abnormal rate, it will cause congestion in the bone marrows where blood is formed, and this condition will cause aches and pains in the bones and joints. This situation is one of the symptoms of leukemia in which case, a child may begin to complain of pains in the lower regions of the back.  Due to shocks and strains in the legs, a sufferer may show signs of limping and discomfort while walking.

Intensive Bleeding After a Minor Injury or Nosebleed

There may be instances of excessive and severe bleeding after a minor injury or nosebleed, and children with leukemia may tend to have injuries more often. Sometimes, you may notice small red spots, also called ‘petechiae’ on their body. This can occur if some small blood capillaries are already bleeding internally. Another issue, you may witness, although, during blood tests for children with leukemia is that they have low counts of platelets, which is responsible for blood clotting.

Colic, Heartburn, and Low Appetite

A child who has leukemia may be unable to eat correctly and because of that will have lost weight unnecessarily. Again, leukemia cells may accumulate in the liver, kidney, and spleen causing the affected organs to enlarge and your pediatricians may feel such enlarged tissues during tests for the patient. Due to this enlargement, the child will have stomachaches or colic and heartburns.

Anemic Condition

Leukemia in Children

When there is a congestion of blood cells in the body, the red blood cells will find it difficult in absorbing and distributing oxygen in the body. If this happens, it will cause a condition known as anemia. The apparent signs of the anemic state include rapid breathing, fatigue, pale skin, nauseating, and dizziness. In most cases, to detect this ailment, carry out a blood test for your child.

Dyspnea or Painful Breathing

Dyspnea is a condition, whereby leukemic cells gather around a gland found at the base of the neck called thymus. When this occurs, your baby may find it difficult breathing leading to swollen lymph nodes in the chest, and this will invariably block the windpipe. The resultant effect is wheezing and coughing in the child.

Prolonged and Frequent Bouts of Viral or Bacterial Infections

Your child may be experiencing long and frequent bouts of viral or bacterial infections because white blood cells formed to fight against these bad microbes in human bodies are weak and unable to perform their duties. Therefore, the child will be experiencing signs such as a runny nose, coughing, fever, and other ailments. When this occurs, you may be administering medications but no significant results, then, it could be leukemia.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

You can ascertain if your child has swollen lymph nodes by conducting CT scan and MRI scan respectively. This condition usually occurs in the abdominal cavity and chests region of the body. However, lymph nodes are capable of purifying the blood through a filtration process, but leukemia gathers in lymph nodes to obstruct the process, thereby causing swollen neck, groin, collarbone, and swelling under your babies arms.

And there is the video about leukemia in children.

What Causes Leukemia in Children

Leukemia in children is caused when the bone marrow begins to produce premature white blood cells that are not capable of fighting infections. The bone marrow forms the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Now, the white blood cells fight bacterial incursions in the body, red blood cells distribute oxygen, and platelets help the blood in clotting. But, when the bone marrow develops cancer of the blood, it will begin to reproduce unhealthy and immature cells that could not protect the body, thereby leading to leukemia in children.

These premature white blood cells are produced in considerable quantity and become congested in the body. The body has a mechanism that controls the production of cells by sending signals to stop the process for a period. But, if the child has leukemia, the arrangement does not function leading to over reproduction of immature white blood cells. This type of cells is often called blasts, but they do not fight against infections and other microbes in the body.

Furthermore, leukemia in children is an acquired genetic disease due to defects in chromosomes and changes of genes.

Any defect in the body’s immunity will expose the child to instances of leukemia.  This could be induced by infections, environmental factors, exposures to toxic substances, and other debilitating conditions. Although these factors cannot be said pointedly to be the real causes of childhood leukemia; in fact, even if your young ones avoided all those things, leukemia may still occur.

In other cases, you can evaluate and determine leukemia in children based on the type of bone marrow cell cancer originated. Blood cells can transform into any different kind of cell. Every blood cell in the body exists as hematopoietic stem cells, and this entails that they can change into any other blood cell. Leukemia can become chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) if it originates from a stem cell. Also, the stem cell could be a lymphocyte precursor cell or myeloid precursor cell that transforms into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) as the case may be.

In conclusion, there is no particular circumstance or health condition that could be said is the primary cause of childhood leukemia. It varies from one individual to another.

Types of Leukemia in Children

From the preceding, we can deduce that childhood leukemia varies from an individual to another depending on various genetic, environmental, and even health conditions, which such child is prone or predisposed to have.  Here are some types of leukemia that can attack a child:

Types of Leukemia in Children

Chronic myelogenous leukemia

This type of childhood leukemia can develop within some months or even years without your notice, although, it is not a regular occurrence in young kids.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Children between the ages of two to three years are easily affected by acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This type of leukemia attacks the lymphocytes, and it is generally called lymphoid or lymphocytic leukemia.  It can develop within some days or even weeks and also occurs in adults. Moreover, about eighty-five percent of childhood leukemia incidences in the United States of America is acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia

Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia occurs in about two percent of childhood cases. You can find this disease in children as from four years old and below.  When the production of white blood cells in the bone marrows is not adequately regulated, it could lead to this type of cancer in young kids. Although, it is not a common ailment, sometimes, people regard it as a myeloproliferative neoplasm. This is a situation whereby abnormal bone marrow cells can form too many blood cells leading to a blood disorder.

Acute myelogenous leukemia  

Acute myelogenous leukemia occurs in about fifteen to twenty percent of childhood cancer cases in the United States of America. It affects children mostly at the age of two years and does not occur in any other age range until in later part of life. This type of cancer can develop in a child within a few days or weeks as the case may be. It is also regarded as myelocytic leukemia or myelogenous leukemia.  Most persons often call this myeloblastic cancer leukemia or granulocytic leukemia.  Cells called eosinophils or neutrophils are the most commonly affected by this cancerous infection.

How to Diagnose Leukemia in a Child

Now, let us know some of the necessary methods a pediatrician can adopt in examining your child for leukemia infections such as

Complete Blood Count

This test involves a measurement of the maturity, size, and number of various blood cells contained in a given unit of blood.

Magnetic resonance imaging

Diagnose Leukemia in a Child

MRI is a combination of large magnetic properties, a computer, and radio frequencies to capture detailed pictures of organs and other systems in the body.


The process of using invisible electromagnetic energy beams in producing imageries of internal organs bones, and other tissues in a film format.

Lymph node biopsy

The removal of all or part of the lymph node for medical tests is called lymph node biopsy.

Additional blood tests

This involves a series of blood chemistry, genetic studies, and examination of the functions of your child’s kidney and liver to detect infestations of leukemia.

Lumbar puncture or spinal puncture

In carrying out this test, a small quantity of cerebrospinal fluid can be taken for examination using a special needle, which is inserted into the spinal canal or lumbar puncture at the lower back of the child; and this is the area around the spinal cord. This is done to know the extent of pressure on the brain and spinal canal respectively.  The result will detect if there are a leukemic infection and other conditions that need attention.

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

If the child is given local anesthesia, the bone marrow could be taken from the upper pelvic bone with a needle biopsy or aspiration technique, in which case, a fluid specimen is extracted from the marrows while in needle biopsy, marrow cells alone are taken for tests.  Most physicians use both techniques in determining the occurrence of leukemia in children.

Sonography or Ultrasound

 Diagnose Leukemia in a Child

Sonography or ultrasound is used for viewing and assessing the functions of internal organs and knowing how blood circulates through them. It is a process of applying high-frequency sound waves and computer in creating pictures of tissues, capillaries, organs, and blood vessels.

Computerized tomography scan

This test is a way of diagnosing using a blend of x-rays and computer technology in producing cross-sectional images. It is often called CAT or CT scan.

How to Treat Leukemia in Children

The doctor will determine the particular treatment suitable for a child based on the age and medical history, the projected duration of cancer, the acceptability of medical treatments and therapies by the child, and the type of cancer troubling the kid.

Firstly, the doctor has to find a way to curb every symptom such as bleeding, anemia, and any other infection before administering medications on the patient.

Here are some of the different medications a leukemia patient needs such as

Bone Marrow Transplant

How to Treat Leukemia in Children

Although this process cannot be used in treating all the types of leukemia, it can only be applied if after treatment by radiation and chemotherapy fail.

Blood Transfusions

Blood transfusions are meant for red blood cells and platelets.


You can give antibiotics to treat infections or prevent the attack of microbes.


Medications are administered to handle injuries and damages caused by leukemia infestation to other parts of the body. It can be given to prevent the side effects of treatment, vomiting, and other complications that may arise.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the application of high-energy radiation in reducing and shrinking cancerous growths and tumors, thereby destroying such cells as the genetic substances (DNA) are damaged.


Treatment of Leukemia in Children

This could be given as intrathecal medications, which is a process whereby drugs are administered by injecting a needle into the spinal cord to the subarachnoid area to handle leukemia.

Then, the final process of treating children who have cancer of the blood is by constant follow up and caring attention.

The Different Stages of Treatment of Leukemia in Children

There are three different stages of cancer treatment such as

Combination of Chemotherapy and Medications

A combination of chemotherapy and medications is also known as induction, and it is administered to the patient to prevent the process of abnormal cells forming in the bone marrows. After this process, the doctor can carry out ‘remission,’ which is examining the blood with a microscope to ensure that infected cells do no longer exist in the blood or marrow as the case may be. However, this does not mean leukemia is wiped out of the body, but continued medication is required to achieve success.

Continued Treatment with Chemotherapy

Treatment of Leukemia in Children

After the induction process, there should be an intensification or consolidation of the treatment process with chemotherapy to destroy cancerous cells. Those cells may not be present in the marrow test or blood diagnosis conducted through remission but could still exist in the body. Therefore, your pediatrician can offer chemotherapies to the central nervous system to eliminate leukemic cells present there. Another critical organ that needs treatment with chemotherapy is the child’s brain as this will stop those cancerous cells from migrating to other parts of the body.

Eradication of Leukemia

If you want to eradicate leukemia in your child’s body, endeavor to continue or maintain the treatment with less intensive chemotherapy, and this could be done at home, not necessarily the clinic. Moreover, this stage of treatment may be continued for some months and years as the case may be, depending on the nature of infestation, with a regular visit to the doctor to assess the rate of recovery.

Prognosis and Long-Term Survival Rates

Prognosis or long-term survival rates for children with leukemia infections can be determined by the nature of the leukemic contamination, the response of the disease to treatment, and the genetic defects of leukemia. Additionally, the age and health status of a particular child, your kid’s acceptability and tolerance of medicines and other therapies, and any different medical strategies that could be applied in eliminating the malaise will positively affect the diagnosis and treatment.  Moreover, prompt medical attention, aggressive treatment, constant follow-up and survivorship care are necessary to enhance speedy recovery.


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