Published: Aug. 26, 2011
Updated: Aug. 26, 2011
Leukemias are cancers of the blood and bone marrow in which the body makes abnormal blood cells that crowd out the normal ones. Leukemias and brain tumors account for more than half of pediatric cancers.
Two of the most common childhood leukemias are:
Symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer. Many of the symptoms of childhood cancers can also be symptoms of other diseases. Be sure to consult your doctor if your child has symptoms that seem unusual for him or her.
Symptoms of leukemia may include:
Because leukemias are cancers of the blood, which spreads throughout the body, they are not divided into stages that indicate how far they have spread. Instead, they are divided into risk groups or treatment categories.
ALL is classified into risk groups.
ALL can also be classified according to the status of treatment:
Like ALL, acute myeloid leukemia and other myeloid cancers are also classified according to the status of treatment. There are some specific genetic changes (chromosome translocations) that are associated with better or worse prognosis.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy (in selected cases) are the standard treatments for many childhood cancers. Your child may receive one or more treatments depending on the cancer type, your child’s general health, and other factors.
For acute lymphoblastic leukemia, systemic chemotherapy is often combined with chemotherapy administered to the spinal fluid, either to treat cancer that has spread around the spinal cord or brain or to prevent it from spreading there.
Targeted therapy consists of drugs that can stop tumors from growing by pinpointing the changes in genes that lead to cancer. Targeted therapy may be used to treat brain tumors, leukemias, and sarcomas.
Other types of drugs are used to treat certain types of myeloid leukemias by killing leukemia cells, preventing them from multiplying, or helping them mature into normal white blood cells. These drugs include arsenic trioxide and all-trans retinoic acid.
For some leukemias or myeloid cancers, the doctor may monitor a patient closely without giving treatment until symptoms change. This watchful waiting is used with myelodysplastic syndromes and transient myeloproliferative disorder.