Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the body's white blood cells (WBCs).
Normally, WBCs help fight infection and protect the body against disease. But in leukemia, WBCs turn cancerous and multiply when they shouldn't, resulting in too many abnormal WBCs, which then interfere with the body's ability to function normally.
If too many mature WBCs are made, a child will develop chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). While this type of leukemia is more common in adults, it can affect children, too.
Thanks to advances in therapy and clinical trials, the outlook for kids with CML is promising.
CML is caused by a chromosomal problem. The 23 pairs of chromosomes in the body each contain segments of DNA called genes. Genes are essentially the body's blueprints.
CML occurs when a piece of chromosome 22 breaks off and switches places with a piece of chromosome 9. (This piece, containing parts of both chromosome 9 and chromosome 22, is known as the Philadelphia chromosome.) The combination results in the cancer gene known as BCR-ABL. This is the gene that instructs the body to make too many mature WBCs.
Although researchers know what genes are involved in the development of CML, they do not yet know why some people get it and others do not.
CML tends to progress slowly, so at first a child may have few if any symptoms. In fact, symptoms can take months or even years to develop. The symptoms of all types of leukemia are generally the same and include:
Often no symptoms appear for quite a while with CML, so it's commonly discovered when a child has a routine blood test for other reasons. A doctor who suspects a child has leukemia might order these tests:
Treatment of CML takes into account things like the phase of the leukemia (whether it's in the early or later stages of the disease), the amount of cancerous cells in the body, and how well the other organs of the body are working. This information, in addition to a child's age and overall heath, helps doctors develop treatment plans that may include these options:
After treatment begins, the goal is remission (when there is no longer evidence of cancer cells in the body). Once remission has occurred, maintenance chemotherapy is usually given to keep a child in remission and to keep killing cancer cells. The effect of treatment is assessed regularly by measuring how many BCR-ABL genes are in the blood.
Being told that a child has cancer can be a terrifying experience, and the stress of cancer treatment can be overwhelming for any family.
Although you might feel like it at times, you're not alone. To find out about support that may be available to you or your child, talk to your doctor or a hospital social worker. Many resources are available that can help you get through this difficult time.
Reviewed by: Emi H. Caywood, MD
Date reviewed: March 2012
|CureSearch for Children's Cancer CureSearch for Children's Cancer supports and sponsors research and treatment for childhood cancers.|
|National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) The NMDP is a nonprofit organization that facilitates unrelated marrow and blood stem cell transplants for people with life-threatening diseases who do not have matching donors in their families.|
|Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer A unique foundation that evolved from a young cancer patient's front-yard lemonade stand to a nationwide fundraising movement to find a cure for pediatric cancer.|
|National Cancer Institute (NCI) NCI provides detailed information about cancer research, various kinds of cancer, and living with cancer. Call: (800) 4-CANCER|
|Leukemia & Lymphoma Society The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is dedicated to funding blood-cancer research, education, and patient services. The Society's mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Call: (914) 949-5213|
|When Cancer Keeps You Home Sometimes kids who have cancer need to stay home instead of going to school and doing their normal stuff. Find out why and what kids can do in the meantime.|
|Neutropenia Certain cancers, or cancer treatment, can weaken the immune system, requiring a child to stay home to avoid exposure to germs. Here are ways to help your child make the best of it.|
|Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Among kids with leukemia, 20% have this form of the blood cancer. With treatment, most recover.|
|Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML) Learn about this type of blood cancer that usually affects kids under 2 years old.|
|What Is Cancer? When kids get cancer, it can often be treated and cured. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) ALL is the most common type of leukemia, affecting nearly 75% of kids who have this cancer of the blood cells. With treatment, most recover.|
|Cancer Center Cancer is a serious illness that needs special treatment. Find out more about how kids can cope with cancer.|
|Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a big word for treatment with medicines used to help people who have cancer. This medicine kills the cancer cells that are making the person sick.|
|Leukemia Leukemia refers to cancers of the white blood cells (also called leukocytes or WBCs). With the proper treatment, the outlook for kids who are diagnosed with leukemia is quite good.|
|Types of Cancer Teens Get While cancer is rare in teens, some types are more likely to affect young people. Learn about these types of cancer, including warning signs, symptoms, and treatments.|
|Caring for a Seriously Ill Child Taking care of a chronically ill child is one of the most draining and difficult tasks a parent can face. But support groups, social workers, and family friends often can help.|
|Stem Cell Transplants Stem cells help rebuild a weakened immune system. Stem cell transplants are effective treatments for a wide range of diseases, including cancer.|
|When Cancer Keeps You Home Cancer patients often have to stay at home to avoid infection. Read our ideas on ways to make the best of your time at home.|
|Cancer Center Visit our Cancer Center for teens to get information and advice on treating and coping with cancer.|
|Cancer Center From treatments and prevention to coping with the emotional aspects of cancer, the Cancer Center provides comprehensive information that parents need.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.