Most childhood leukemias are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Most of the remaining cases are acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Chronic leukemias are rare in children. As tough as it is for a child to have cancer, it’s good to know that most children and teens with childhood leukemia can be successfully treated. Leukemia is a cancer of the early blood-forming cells. Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, but some leukemias start in other blood cell types. These cancer cells start in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of certain bones, where new blood cells are made). In most cases, the leukemia invades the blood fairly quickly. From there it can go to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), testicles or other organs.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes most cases of childhood leukemia. But UofL Physicians pediatric oncologist Scott Myers shares that certain factors may increase the chances of getting it.

Keep in mind, though, that having a risk factor does not necessarily mean a child will get leukemia. In fact, most children with leukemia don’t have any known risk factors.

The risk for childhood leukemia increases if your child has:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome or Klinefelter syndrome
  • An inherited immune system problem such as ataxia telangiectasia
  • A sibling with leukemia, especially an identical twin
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation, chemotherapy or chemicals such as benzene (a solvent)
  • A history of immune system suppression, such as for an organ transplant

Symptoms of leukemia often prompt a visit to the doctor.

“This is a good thing because it means the disease may be found earlier than it otherwise would. Early diagnosis can lead to more successful treatment,” Myers said.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue or pale skin
  • Infections and fever
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing

Please note: There are many reasons for the symptoms listed above, so while it is important to be attentive, parents need not worry. Watch your child’s symptoms closely and call your pediatrician with concerns.

Myers practices with UofL Physicians – Pediatric Oncology and cares for children with leukemia at the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Kosair Children’s Hospital.

“Our excellent cure rates for children with leukemia and lymphoma have made us one of the top 25 pediatric cancer programs in the country as reported by U.S. News & World Report,” he said.

For more information or to make an appointment with a UofL Physicians pediatric oncologist, please call 502-629-7755.

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health articles from the “UofL Physicians-Insider” newsletter. Read the entire September issue (opens as a PDF document).