What increases my child’s risk of developing leukemia?
A combination of genetic and environmental factors can increase the risk of your child developing leukemia, including:
- Genetic disorders, such as down syndrome or Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Inherited immune system issues like Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome and Bloom syndrome
- Having a sibling who also has leukemia
- Too much sun exposure
- Undergoing treatment for other kinds of cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Taking medicine to suppress the immune system after an organ transplant
Diagnosis and Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult your doctor for more information.
How do doctors diagnose leukemia?
Since the symptoms of leukemia can resemble those of other medical conditions, it is important to consult your doctor for an official diagnosis. Unlike with other cancers, doctors classify leukemia according to groups and sub-types; they do not assign stage numbers.
First, the doctor or pediatrician will examine your child’s symptoms. After the examination, your healthcare provider may recommend more tests. These tests can include:
- Complete blood counts to check for any abnormalities in the amounts and types of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets
- Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy to check for the presence of cancer cells
- Lab tests of bone and marrow samples to determine the type of leukemia present
- X-rays and ultrasounds to create images of the organs and bones
- Lymph node biopsy to check if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
- Lumbar puncture to extract a small amount of cerebral spinal fluid and check for the presence of cancer cells in the spine and brain
How is leukemia in children treated?
Leukemia patients are treated based on the type of leukemia they have and other factors, such as medical history. Here are possible treatments for leukemia in children:
Blood transfusions. These are used to help patients who have low blood counts or persistent bleeding. Blood transfusions with red blood cells address former, while blood transfusions with platelets help stop the latter.
Antibiotics. These treat any infections that the patient might have. These infections can cause further complications if they are not dealt with first.
Chemotherapy. This is used to kill cancer cells and prevent further spreading. It can be administered in cycles through an IV or injections, or taken orally. High-dose chemotherapy can be partnered with a stem cell transplant. Here, young cells are removed from the bone marrow and then replaced after chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy. High-energy radiation is applied to damage the DNA of the cancer cells, thus preventing them from reproducing. This treatment is often reserved for leukemia cases wherein the cancer has spread to the brain, spinal fluid, or even testicles.
Targeted therapy. This involves medication that targets specific proteins of cancer cells without hurting normal cells. These proteins control how the cancer cells reproduce and spread. It often has less severe side effects. However, doctors may pair it with other types of treatment, as it is possible for cancer cells to build resistance to targeted therapy.
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage leukemia in children?
Unfortunately, there are no known methods to prevent leukemia in children. It is important to detect and treat the condition early. There are, however, ways to help your child through their treatments:
Encourage proper hygiene. Prevent further infections by encouraging your child and other family members to regularly wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and to cover their noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing.
Make some healthy dietary changes. Cancer treatments can reduce your child’s appetite. To keep your child strong during and after treatment, create a healthy meal plan that includes fruits, vegetables, protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Similarly, keep healthy snacks and small meals on hand for when their appetite returns.
Do some low-risk exercises. Exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Ask your doctor if your child is strong enough to go on a short walk every day.
Give emotional support. Dealing with leukemia can be a very stressful and emotional experience. Encourage your child to acknowledge and express their emotions, or seek out a support group for the two of you to join.
Learn more about child health, here.