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We stand for the end of childhood leukemia

Types of Childhood Leukemia:

In general, leukemias are classified into acute (rapidly developing) and chronic (slowly developing) forms. In children, about 98% of leukemias are acute.

Acute childhood leukemias are also divided into acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), depending on whether specific white blood cells called lymphyocytes (or myelocytes), which are linked to immune defenses, are involved.

Approximately 60% of children with leukemia have ALL, and about 38% have AML. Although slow-growing chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) may also be seen in children, it is very rare, accounting for fewer than 50 cases of childhood leukemia each year in the United States.

Risk for Childhood Leukemia

The ALL form of the disease most commonly occurs in younger children ages 2 to 8, with a peak incidence at age 4. But it can affect all age groups.

Children have a 20% to 25% chance of developing ALL or AML if they have an identical twin who was diagnosed with the illness before age 6. In general, nonidentical twins and other siblings of children with leukemia have two to four times the average risk of developing this illness.

Children who have inherited certain genetic problems - such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, Kleinfelter syndrome, neurofibromatosis, ataxia telangectasia, or Fanconi's anemia - have a higher risk of developing leukemia, as do children who are receiving medical drugs to suppress their immune systems after organ transplants.

Children who have received prior radiation or chemotherapy for other types of cancer also have a higher risk for leukemia, usually within the first 8 years after treatment.

In most cases, neither parents nor children have control over the factors that trigger leukemia, although current studies are investigating the possibility that some environmental factors may predispose a child to develop the disease. Most leukemias arise from noninherited mutations (changes) in the genes of growing blood cells. Because these errors occur randomly and unpredictably, there is currently no effective way to prevent most types of leukemia.

To limit the risk of prenatal radiation exposure as a trigger for leukemia (especially ALL), women who are pregnant or who suspect that they might be pregnant should always inform their doctors before undergoing tests or medical procedures that involve radiation (such as X-rays).

Regular checkups can spot early symptoms of leukemia in the relatively rare cases where this cancer is linked to an inherited genetic problem, to prior cancer treatment, or to use of immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants.

Symptoms of Leukemia

Because infection-fighting white blood cells are defective in children with leukemia, these children may experience increased episodes of fevers and infections.

They may also become anemic because leukemia affects the bone marrow's production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This makes them appear pale, and they may become abnormally tired and short of breath while playing.

Children with leukemia may also bruise and bleed very easily, experience frequent nosebleeds, or bleed for an unusually long time after even a minor cut because leukemia destroys the bone marrow's ability to produce clot-forming platelets.

Other symptoms of leukemia may include:

* pain in the bones or joints, sometimes causing a limp
* swollen lymph nodes (sometimes called swollen glands) in the neck, groin, or elsewhere
* an abnormally tired feeling
* poor appetite

In about 12% of children with AML and 6% of children with ALL, spread of leukemia to the brain causes headaches, seizures, balance problems, or abnormal vision. If ALL spreads to the lymph nodes inside the chest, the enlarged gland can crowd the trachea (windpipe) and important blood vessels, leading to breathing problems and interference with blood flow to and from the heart.