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Signs and Symptoms of Leukemia in Children

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 12/24/2010

A cancer of the white blood cells, leukemia causes a large amount of abnormal white blood cells to be made in the bone marrow. Leukemia makes up around 25 percent of childhood cancers, according to KidsHealth from Nemours. Learn about the symptoms of leukemia in children.

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    Introduction

    Around 2,200 children are diagnosed with leukemia each year in the United States, according to KidsHealth from Nemours. When a child has leukemia, the body makes more abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow than needed, which build up in the bone marrow but cannot protect against disease. Children's Hospital Boston notes that 95 percent of blood cells are stored and produced by the bone marrow. As the cancer progresses, patients have problems with their red blood cells and platelets. As a result, patients can have a low number of red cells, called anemia.

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    Types of Leukemia in Children

    The types of leukemia that children can have fall into two groups: acute leukemia and chronic leukemia. With the acute types of leukemia, the cancer develops rapidly. With the chronic types of leukemia, the cancer develops slowly. KidsHealth from Nemours notes that 98 percent of leukemia cases in children are acute.

    A child can have one of three types of leukemia: acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia. Many children who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia have chromosomal abnormalities. The risk for acute myelogenous leukemia is higher in children with certain conditions, such as Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Kostmann syndrome and Bloom syndrome. Chronic myelogenous leukemia is an uncommon type of leukemia in children. The cell abnormalities in this type of leukemia results from genetic material exchange between chromosome 9 and chromosome 22, according to Children's Hospital Boston. KidsHealth from Nemours notes that about 60 percent of childhood leukemia cases are acute lymphocytic leukemia, 38 percent are acute myelogenous leukemia, and the remaining, which is less than 50 cases per year, are chronic myelogenous leukemia.

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    Symptoms of Leukemia in Children

    The symptoms of leukemia in children can include bleeding problems, such as bleeding easily and nosebleeds. KidsHealth from Nemours explains that these bleeding problems result from the cancer affecting the production of clot-forming platelets. If the child develops anemia, she can be pale and tired. Leukemia patients may have petechia, in which they have tiny red dots on their skin.

    Children with leukemia can have recurrent infections, since the abnormal white blood cells cannot fight off invading viruses or bacteria. Swollen lymph nodes can occur, which can occur in the patients' groin or neck. Other symptoms in children include bone pain, joint pain, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain and a poor appetite.

    Other symptoms may occur if the cancer spreads elsewhere to the body. For example, KidsHealth from Nemours notes that the cancer spreads to the brain in 6 percent of acute lymphocytic leukemia patients and 12 percent of acute myelogenous leukemia. If the leukemia spreads to the brain, symptoms can include abnormal vision, headaches, problems with balance and seizures.

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    References

    KidsHealth from Nemours: Leukemia (http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&ps=107&cat_id=136&article_set=22954)

    Children's Hospital Boston: Leukemia (http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1236/mainpageS1236P0.html)