Cancer is a disease that not only erodes the body but the spirit and soul as well. Its the faith that helps the patient survive its brutal attack.
We are all aware of the word Cancer. Often it is termed as the “Big C or the Dreaded C” and why not … it not only shakes up the person affected but the whole family. Cancer can touch anyone and starts when the cells in the body start to grow out of control. These cells can be in any part of the body and can spread from one area to another. This does not even spare children.
However, the cancers in children are different from the cancers in adults. Childhood cancers are associated with environmental and lifestyle factors. They respond better to treatment than adults because they have no other problems. Having said this they also have long terms effects of chemo and radiation therapy.
One such cancer that affects children is Leukaemia. It is very common in children and is the cancer of the white blood cells (WBC). The white blood cells found in the body are responsible for fighting against infections and diseases. In the case of leukaemia, the bone marrow makes a lot of these WBCs which is not normal. These unhealthy WBC invade the marrow and enter the bloodstream where they outnumber the healthy WBC. This makes the child susceptible to bruising and infections. The leukaemia can also spread from the bone marrow to the other parts of the body like liver, brain and chest.
There are different types of leukaemias. These could be based on the growth of the cells – acute (fast-growing) or chronic (slow growing) or involvement of the cells – myeloid cells or lymphoid cells.
Acute Leukaemia: These are very common in children and grow very quickly. These need treatment right away. They are:
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL): These leukaemia’s account for about 3 out of 4 childhood cancers. Common in children 2 to 8 years old. This form of cancer starts in the early development of white blood cells.
- Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML): This type accounts for the rest of the childhood leukaemia. Can happen at any age but often seen in children less than 2 and teens. This starts from the myeloid cells which from the red blood cells, platelets and the white blood cells.
Chronic Leukaemia: These are rare in children, grow slowly and are difficult to cure. They are:
- Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML): This is rare in children, though may be seen in teens. Its treatment is very much similar to that of adults.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL): This form of leukaemia is very rare in children.
Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukaemia (JMML): This is again rare leukaemia which is neither acute nor chronic. Though it starts in myeloid cells it does not grow as slow as CML or as fast as AML. It occurs in infants and toddlers.
Signs and Symptoms of Leukaemia:
Children with leukaemia may fall more ill with viral and bacterial infections when compared with other children who don’t have this. These children are more prone to infection because the white blood cells cannot fight infections. Symptoms to look out for leukaemia are:
- Pain in the joints and bones. This may also lead to a limp
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Swelling in the lymph nodes
- Pain in belly
- Unexplained fever
There are times when these cancers spread. If the leukaemia spreads to the brain then seizures, headaches, problems in vision and balance may develop. When these spread to the lymph nodes of the chest it may cause chest pain and breathing problems.
Leukaemia can be diagnosed through tests like spinal tap, bone marrow biopsy, genetic testing and imaging tests like X-rays.
Childhood leukaemia has a high remission rate, as high as 90%. Remission means that the child is free of cancer cells. Most kids reach permanent remission and lead a good life with proper and timely treatment.
Caring for a person with cancer can be stressful more so if it is a child. Since children experience a plethora of emotions while battling their cancer journey right from the symptoms to the diagnosis and treatment, it is very obvious that they go through mood changes. While you are engrossed looking after a child with cancer do remember to stop by and take care of yourself as well.
A – Autism, B – Bronchiolitis, C – Celiac Disease, D – Dyslexia, E – Eating Disorders, F – Fever, G – GERD, H – Hand Foot And Mouth Disease (HFMD), I – Imaginary Friends, J – Juvenile Arthritis, K – Kawasaki Disease