Childhood leukemia, the most common type of cancer in children and teens, is a cancer of the white blood cells. Abnormal white blood cells form in the bone marrow. They quickly travel through the bloodstream and crowd out healthy cells. This increases the body's chances of infection and other problems.
As tough as it is for a child to have cancer, it's good to know that most children and teens with childhood leukemia can be successfully treated.
Note: The American Joint Committee on Cancer has recently published a new edition of the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, which includes revisions to the staging for this disease. The PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is responsible for maintaining this summary, is currently reviewing the new staging to determine the changes that need to be made in the summary. In addition to updating this Stage Information section, additional changes may need to be made to other parts of this summary to ensure...
Doctors don't know exactly what causes most cases of childhood leukemia. But certain factors may increase the chances of getting it. Keep in mind, though, that having a risk factor does not necessarily mean a child will get leukemia. In fact, most children with leukemia don't have any known risk factors.
The risk for childhood leukemia increases if your child has:
An inherited disorder such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, or Klinefelter syndrome
An inherited immune system problem such as ataxia telangiectasia
A brother or sister with leukemia, especially an identical twin
A history of being exposed to high levels of radiation, chemotherapy, or chemicals such as benzene (a solvent)
A history of immune system suppression, such as for an organ transplant
Although the risk is small, doctors advise that children with known risk factors have regular checkups to spot any problems early.
Types of Childhood Leukemia
Almost all cases of childhood leukemia are acute, which means they develop rapidly. A tiny number are chronic and develop slowly.
Types of childhood leukemia include:
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), also called acute lymphocytic leukemia. ALL accounts for three out of every four cases of childhood leukemia.
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). AML is the next most common type of childhood leukemia.
Hybrid or mixed lineage leukemia. This is a rare leukemia with features of both ALL and AML.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). CML is rare in children.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). CLL is very rare in children.
Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML). This is a rare type that is neither chronic nor acute and occurs most often in children under age 4.
Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia
Symptoms of leukemia often prompt a visit to the doctor. This is a good thing because it means the disease may be found earlier than it otherwise would. Early diagnosis can lead to more successful treatment.
Many signs and symptoms of childhood leukemia occur when leukemia cells crowd out normal cells.