Childhood Leukemia: Signs and Symptoms

This is one of the most common types of cancers affecting children today and with early detection, the cure rate is also very high. Many children with leukemia who get prompt and appropriate treatment are able to overcome their cancer and go on to live long and healthy lives.

Leukemia in Children
Children with leukemia produce an overflow of defective white blood cells in their bone marrow and this prevents the body from being able to function properly. Over time, this can also prevent the red blood cells and platelets from doing their jobs and can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Symptoms of Leukemia in Children
How leukemia affects each person can vary, but there are some common signs of leukemia in children. Keep in mind that most of these symptoms can also be caused by a range of other, less serious, health problems, so there's no need to panic, but you should plan to see your pediatrician promptly and have your child assessed.

  • Paleness, weakness, and tiring easily. This can be caused by anemia, which is a condition that results when the body doesn't have enough red blood cells--common side effect of leukemia.
  • Bruising or bleeding easily. One possible cause is the bone marrow's inability to clot properly when it's affected by leukemia.
  • Repeated viruses or infections. This often includes fever, cough and nasal symptoms. When a child has leukemia, the white blood cells often can't appropriately fight off illness.
  • Pain in the bones or joints. This can occur when the bone marrow is too full.
  • Abdominal pain and loss of appetite. One possible cause is abnormal cells in the kidney, liver, and spleen.
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes. Leukemia cells can gather in the lymph nodes in different parts of the body and cause tenderness and swelling.
  • Chest pain and breathing problems. This can result when leukemia cells are clumped in the center of the chest.

Who is at Risk for Leukemia?
Anyone can get leukemia, but certain children can be at increased risk, such as those:

  • with genetic disorders,
  • who take immune-suppressing medications because of an organ transplant,
  • who have been treated for other cancers in the past few years.

There's nothing you can do at the present time to reduce the likelihood that your child will be affected by leukemia. The best way to protect your child is to be aware of the warning signs and respond promptly. When in doubt, always have your pediatrician check it out.

American Cancer Society

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital