Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children and teens, accounting for almost one-third of all cancers. Acute lymphocytic leukemia, ALL, is the most common type of childhood leukemia, and acute myeloid leukemia, AML, makes up most of the remaining cases. Children rarely have chronic leukemia. In this blog, we will review childhood leukemia and its common causes.
Leukemia can be either short-term or long-term. Acute leukemias are more aggressive and involve blood cells that aren't fully grown yet. Chronic leukemias, on the other hand, tend to grow more slowly and involve blood cells that are fully grown. Leukemia is further divided into four main types based on the types of cells that are affected.
Different things can cause the symptoms. Cancer can be in the bone marrow, the blood, and other tissues and organs, which includes the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, thymus, skin, gums, and spinal cord. Every child's symptoms can be a little bit different, and some of these include:
Most childhood leukemias don't have a clear cause. Most children with leukemia do not have any known risk factors. However, some changes in the DNA of normal bone marrow cells can cause them to grow out of control and turn into leukemia cells. DNA is the chemical in our cells that makes up our genes, which control how our cells work. We often look like our parents because our DNA comes from them. But genes affect more than just how we look.
Some genes control when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die:
Cancers can be caused by DNA mutations or other changes that keep oncogenes turned on or turn off genes that stop tumors from growing. These gene changes can be passed down from a parent, which is sometimes true with childhood leukemias, or they can happen randomly during a person's lifetime if cells in the body make mistakes when they divide to make new cells.
A chromosome translocation is a common change to DNA that can cause leukemia. 23 pairs of chromosomes hold all of a person's DNA. In translocation, a piece of DNA from one chromosome breaks off and joins with DNA from another chromosome. Where the break is on the chromosome can affect oncogenes or genes that stop tumors from growing. For example, a swap of DNA between chromosomes 9 and 22 is a translocation that is seen in almost all cases of childhood chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and some cases of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). This swap leads to what is called the Philadelphia chromosome. This makes BCR-ABL, which is an oncogene that helps leukemia cells grow. In childhood leukemias, scientists have also found many other changes in chromosomes or specific genes.
At this time, there is no cure for leukemia, and cancer can still come back. However, patients can go into remission, which is when there are no longer any signs or symptoms of cancer. Patients with leukemia now have access to several advanced treatments that can help them go into remission without it coming back including:
Treatment for leukemia will depend on many things. Your doctor decides how to treat your leukemia based on your age, overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether or not it has spread to other parts of your body, including your central nervous system. Some of the most common ways to treat leukemia are:
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