Leukemia refers to a cancer of blood-forming cells, and is the most common cancer diagnosis in children. However, the exact cause of leukemia is not known.
Survival rates of children with the disease have improved in recent years and will continue to improve.
What our senior physiotherapists do to help children with childhood leukemia focuses on
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells found in the bone marrow, the soft center of most bones, where blood cells are produced.
When leukemia is present, the body produces increased numbers of immature blood cells called "blasts." These blasts do not mature correctly; the large number of abnormal, incorrectly maturing cells can crowd out normal cells in the bone marrow.
Typically it's only the white blood cells are affected, but other types of blood cells, such as red blood cells or platelets also can be affected.
Having a reduced number of normal cells of any of these specialized blood cells will definitely be negative and detrimental to our health.
Because leukemia changes the blood, the illness is systemic and affects the whole body. Leukemia accounts for about 30% of all cancers seen in children.
Types of Leukemia
Childhood leukemia is classified into several types described as either acute or chronic. Acute means that the cancer is growing rapidly. Chronic means that it is growing more slowly.
Acute leukemia is more common in children and can be grouped into 3 main types:
Children with leukemia may experience:
As leukemia cells increase in the bone marrow and the normal cells that prevent anemia, bleeding, and infections are decreased, children may become weak, experience fatigue, and generally not feel weak and generally unwell.
The increased bleeding may cause symptoms such as
If the leukemia cells enter other organs, swelling and pain might occur in almost any part of the body. Children typically enjoy activities and play. When any of these symptoms are present and children limit their participation in play, they need to be examined by a medical professional. Some other illnesses may have symptoms similar to leukemia, and health care providers can conduct tests to find the correct diagnosis.
When a child or teenager shows symptoms that could be related to leukemia, a physical examination and a full review of the child's medical history by a health care provider is essential.
Parents should share any family history of cancer, the symptoms they have noticed, how long the symptoms have been present, and any risk factors, such as genetic factors or previous treatment with chemotherapy or radiation.
Several tests are used to diagnosis leukemia, including
The blood sample is evaluated to determine the number of each type of blood cells present (called a complete blood count). The cells' appearance is also examined under a microscope. When leukemia is present in a child, the blood tests often reveal increased numbers of abnormal, immature white blood cells—the above-mentioned "blasts"—and a reduced number of red blood cells.
Additional tests are used to classify the leukemia and to gather more information about the specific genetic makeup of the abnormal cells. These tests may be repeated during treatment to determine how well the child is responding to treatment.
Our senior physiotherapists are an important member of the team of health care professionals working with children who have leukemia. Our physiotherapy goals of treatment for all children include:
The most common medical treatment for leukemia is chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is given as combinations of several different drugs and can be given in a variety of ways, such as intravenously or in a pill form. Chemotherapy regimens for the ALL type of leukemia usually take about 2 to 3 years. The regimens for the AML type of leukemia take approximately 1 year.
Another possible medical treatment for leukemia is a stem cell transplant (SCT). In this form of treatment, stem cells are given to the child with leukemia either from a sibling, unrelated donor, or possibly from umbilical cord blood. The SCT is used to replace healthy stem cells in the bone marrow.
Children receiving chemotherapy may experience side effects, including
The effects of the SCT may be similar. The lengthy treatment also may result in weakness and a loss of the ability to participate in activities like other children.
We will implement ways to modify and encourage play and learning activities to allow continued participation by the child during treatment.