Leukemia Symptoms In Kids: A Guide For Parents

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Leukemia symptoms in kids vary considerably. In some cases they develop slowly, while in others they are noticeable from quite early on.

Chances are that your child will never have cancer. But if you clicked on this post and are keen to know about Leukemia symptoms in kids, then you are probably concerned. And, it is justified.

That’s because childhood leukemia is the fourth most common cause of death in kids across the globe. Yes, you read that right. 

What should you know about leukemia in kids? What are the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment methods involved? Let’s find out.

Leukemia in kids

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is the cancer of white blood cells (WBC). It commonly occurs in kids and teenagers and could either be chronic or acute.

While the former gradually grows in the body and takes time before it becomes fatal, the latter is a fast-growing cancer. 

When abnormal numbers of immature white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow it leads to this condition.

These immature WBCs then travel through the bloodstream and overcrowd healthy cells. Thereby, increasing the chances of infection in the body. 

There are six types of childhood leukemia, as listed below: 

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia: In this type of cancer, the bone marrow creates an unhealthy number of lymphocytes (type of white blood cells).
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia: Here again, the cancer starts from the bone marrow where a large number of immature WBCs are produced.
  • Hybrid or mixed lineage leukemia: This is a combination of the above two types of leukemia cancers. 
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia: While this type of cancer is rare in kids, it is caused by chromosome mutation. 
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: This type of cancer is extremely rare in kids and mostly occurs in older adults. 
  • Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia: This rare type of cancer is neither chronic or acute and affects kids under the age of 4. 

What are the risks of childhood leukemia? 

The risk of childhood leukemia increases if the child has the following:

  • A sister or brother who also suffers from leukemia
  • An inherited immunity disorder such as the ataxia telangiectasia
  • The child already has down syndrome or Klinefelter syndrome
  • Has a history of exposure to chemotherapy or radiation 
  • Has undergone an organ transplant and therefore, has suppressed immunity

Although these are just risks not actual causes, kids with these conditions should get regular health checkups.

The good thing is that childhood leukemia is curable in most cases. Only its symptoms vary from child to child.

So while in some kids the symptoms develop slowly, in others with acute leukemia they can be noticed from quite early on. 

Common Leukemia symptoms in kids

Some of the most common leukemia symptoms in kids include the following: 

#1 Frequent infections 

The WBCs in our body fight infections. However, due to the rapid growth of immature WBCs in the body, the healthy WBCs are unable to perform their function. 

So a child suffering from leukemia may go through several bouts of bacterial and viral infections. These could also include constant fever, coughing, and even runny nose.

Unfortunately, these infections (caused in kids suffering from leukemia) show no signs of improvement and antibiotics may also not work in their case.  

leukemia symptoms in kids

A child suffering from leukemia may go through several bouts of fever and no antibiotic may work

#2 Frequent bruising and bleeding

A child suffering from leukemia would typically bruise more than expected, even in case of minor injuries. He may also bruise much easily and form blood clots quickly. 

Such kids may also have small red spots all over their body. These are tiny blood vessels that have burst or bled and now form a clot. Ideally, the ability of the body to form blood clots is due to a healthy blood platelet count.

But somebody suffering from leukemia will have low blood platelet count (causing too much bleeding or red spots or purple and brown clot).

#3 Poor appetite and stomachache 

If a child is suffering from leukemia, he or she may experience constant stomachaches. That’s because leukemia cells accumulate in the livery, kidney as well as spleen and enlarge them, leading to the pain. 

In certain cases, the organs become so big that the doctors can physically feel the enlarged organs. In such cases, the child may even lose the will to eat and a drastically reduced appetite may lead to acute weight loss. 

#4 Breathing troubles

Since leukemia cells grow rapidly in the body, they clump around several vital organs such as the thymus. This gland is located in the thoracic cavity anterior and is responsible for producing several vital hormones and is associated with the immune system. 

And because it gets crowded by leukemia cells, it greatly impacts breathing. This overcrowding may also lead the thymus to press on a vein that transports blood from face and arms to the heart.

In such a case, blood may get accumulated in face and arms. This may also cause the upper chest area including the arms and face to take on a bluish hue. 

Although let’s not forget, trouble in breathing could also be due to swollen lymph nodes that push against the windpipe. So a child suffering from leukemia may wheeze more often, sometimes leading to painful coughing. 

leukemia symptoms in kids

A child suffering from leukemia may wheeze more often, sometimes leading to painful coughing

#5 Swelling in the body 

Another one of the common leukemia symptoms in kids is swelling in various body parts. Typically, our lymph nodes act as natural filters of the blood.

However, the rapidly growing leukemia cells get accumulated in the lymph nodes. This may lead lead to swelling in the neck, arms, above the collarbone and even in the groin. 

Sometimes swelling in the body may also lead to headaches as well as a feeling of dizziness.  

#6 Joint and bone pain

In leukemia, immature WBCs are produced at an accelerated rate. This crowds the health cells, as mentioned earlier, and this buildup of excess cells often leads to body aches as well as joint pain. 

Some kids who suffer from leukemia also complain of lower back pain and some even find it difficult to walk due to acute joint pains.  

#7 Acute anemia 

You may know that red blood cells that contain hemoglobin help carry oxygen throughout the body. However, with overcrowding of leukemia cells, even they are unable to perform their function properly.

This leads to anemia (decreased level of hemoglobin in the body).

Typical symptoms of anemia include pale skin, fatigue as well as rapid breathing. It can also lead to dizziness and as well a slur in your child’s speech since the blood is not reaching the brain. 

If you notice any of these aforesaid leukemia symptoms in kids, you must rush them for a checkup for a proper diagnosis. 

Diagnosis of childhood leukemia

Your healthcare provider may diagnose leukemia based on a routine blood test. However, if they notice some of the aforesaid Leukemia symptoms in kids, they may even be considered for the following: 

  • Physical test: During a physical examination, the doctor may look for more tangible symptoms. These may include body pains, anemia or swollen glands as well as enlargement of liver and spleen.  
  • Blood test: A blood test is more accurate than a physical examination since the doctor can determine any abnormal growth of WBCs indicating leukemia.  
  • Bone marrow test: In this type of test, a sample of the bone marrow is taken from the hip bone using a long needle.  

Once these tests determine the type and level of cancer in the child’s body, a treatment plan can be charted by the doctor. 

leukemia symptoms in kids

Once the diagnosis is complete leukemia treatment is given based on the age, health as well as the spread of cancer in the body

Treatments for childhood leukemia

There are five types of treatments available for childhood leukemia. These are based on the age, overall health of the child as well as the spread of cancer in the body. 

  • Chemotherapy: This type of treatment involves the use of a drug or a combination of drugs to treat leukemia. They may be given orally through a pill or injected through veins. 
  • Targeted treatment: In this type of leukemia treatment, the immature WBCs are targeted for their specific vulnerabilities. This is identified on the basis of the Leukemia symptoms in kids.
  • Radiation therapy: As the name suggests, types of radiations including x-ray or even high-energy beams are used to target and kill growing leukemia cells. 
  • Biological treatment: This treatment helps the immune system to recognize the growth of leukemia cells in the body and target to destroy them. 
  • Stem cell transplant: This is also a common procedure to cure cancer. Here, a deceased bone marrow is replaced with one that is healthy.  

Remember, childhood leukemia is curable in most cases. So begin by getting informed about the condition, speak to your doctor about the symptoms, ask questions and chart out the treatment plan if leukemia is diagnosed. 

Sources: webmd, healthline, who, cancer.org, mayoclinic

Also read: Are cakes and cancer connected in any way?

(All images courtesy: Pixabay)