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Cancer is one of the diseases seen in children worldwide, and approximately 280,000 children aged 0-19 are diagnosed with cancer each year. Childhood cancers include a number of different types of malignancies, and leukemia is one of them. The Week for Children with Leukemia is celebrated every year to raise awareness about the disease. Here's what you need to know about leukemia:
“What is leukemia?” Leukemia is a blood cancer. There are many types of cancers affecting the blood-forming tissues of the body, including the bone marrow and lymphatic system. Some types of leukemia are more common in children, while others occur mostly in adults. It is a condition that affects white blood cells. White blood cells are powerful infection fighters. They are produced constantly and released to circulation whenever needed. However, this situation is different for children with leukemia. Children with leukemia produce excessive amounts of white blood cells. Leukemia first invades the bone marrow and then all the organs. Bone marrow is the blood producing centre of the body, if leukemia is not detected on time and if early treatment is not initiated this malignant cancer can progress rapidly. If this cancer occurs due to excessive amount of mature white blood cells, it becomes chronic and follows a slower course. However, if it develops due to excessive amounts of white blood cells that have not reached the mature stage, it has an acute and rapid course. Acute leukemias show a sudden onset and present with clinical findings within 1 or 2 months. For this reason, the diagnosis should be made at an early stage and the most accurate treatment process should be planned promptly.
Leukemia is can be separated to two different groups as acute and chronic:
Acute leukemia: It progresses rapidly and therefore timely diagnosis is important. Otherwise, it may lead to death within days or weeks. It is divided into acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Chronic leukemia: It progresses slowly and can remain silent for a long time and manifest itself over years. It is divided into different types as chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
The course and characteristics of acute leukemia are also topics of interest. This type of cancer, which is especially common in children, progresses rapidly and can be seen at any age. The formation of acute leukemia is caused by cancerization of stem cells and their uncontrolled and rapid proliferation. The cancerous cells first spread rapidly to the bone marrow and then to the whole body. White blood cells are not formed in patients who experience this condition, and therefore patients often suffer from severe infections. At the same time, thrombocytes which are responsible for blood coagulation, cannot be produced and as a result bleeding risk in vital organs or bleeding in the stomach and intestinal tract is greatly increased. The hallmark symptom is anemia and it can be easily recognized. In addition, since it spreads to other organs, dysfunction in any organ can be observed. Early diagnosis is of great importance in the treatment of this rapidly progressing cancer.
Chronic leukemia has a slower course than acute leukemia. Chronic leukemia, which is seen as a result of dysfunctional and rapid proliferation of mature cells, has a good prognosis with the right treatment.
Scientists think that genetics, immunological or environmental factors are contributive in the development of leukemia, but the exact cause is unknown. These factors explain the causes of a very small proportion of leukemia:
Other factors are:
The symptoms of leukemia may be similar to those seen in other blood cancers. The most obvious signs of blood cancer are paleness due to anemia, easy fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath during physical activity. In addition, depending on the immune system, red rashes on the nose, gums and under the skin are also among the symptoms seen. Acute leukemia is also manifested by the following symptoms:
Leukemia accounts for 30% of all childhood cancers. Leukemia usually occurs between 2 and 5 years of age or between 5 and 10 years of age. Leukemia in children presents with various vague clinical findings, but it is important to notice some symptoms for early diagnosis. These symptoms are:
Newborn babies live with the immune system provided by their mother for the first 8 months and then complete developing their own immune system by the age of 2 years old. In this process, infections can occur up to 5 times a year. Therefore, it should be known that viral infections can trigger leukemia. One of the most important risk factors for leukemia in children is vitamin D deficiency. For this reason, it is very important for children to go out in the sun in suitable weather conditions.
Early diagnosis is of great importance. In leukemia, blood cells multiply rapidly and prevent the development of functional blood cells. Due to absence of blood production, serious complications such as bleeding and infections can occur. In line with these complaints, a sample is taken from blood and bone marrow for diagnostic purposes. In addition, simple blood count and examination of the cells in the blood with a microscope are sufficient for diagnosis. However, the most definitive diagnosis can be made by bone marrow biopsy.
Leukemia treatment requires multidisciplinary approach. Leukemia patients are treated by hematology specialists. In the treatment process, an oncology center, a well-equipped blood bank providing 24-hour service, a radiation oncology specialist when radiation therapy is required, a specialist nurse team when chemotherapy is required, an infectious diseases specialist and advanced laboratory infrastructure are of great importance. Novel leukemia treatment provides a high success rate, especially as a result of new methods and treatments discovered in recent years. The first method that comes to mind in the treatment of leukemia is chemotherapy. The drugs to be given in chemotherapy, the dose and the route of administration are specific to the patient. In addition to chemotherapy treatment, which lasts for an average of 24 months, bone transplantation is also an option in certain types of leukemia.