Leukemia—Child

Definition

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. In cancer, cells become abnormal and grow out of control. As the number of abnormal blood cells increase, the healthy blood cells are outnumbered. There are three main types of blood cells. Each has a distinct job:
  • White blood cells (WBC), also called lymphocytes, are most often involved in leukemia. Their main job is to help the immune system.
  • Red blood cells (RBC) carry oxygen throughout the body.
  • Platelets help the blood clot at injury sites.
Leukemia cells cannot do the job of normal blood cells. This causes many of the symptoms of leukemia. The disease starts in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. The most common types of leukemia in children are:
White Blood Cells
White Blood Cells
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Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. The term cancer refers to malignant growth of cells or tissue. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to the blood and other parts of the body.It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but it is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your child's chance of leukemia include:
  • Exposure to some environmental and chemical factors such as:
  • Having a sibling, especially an identical twin, who develops leukemia
  • Having a genetic condition, such as Down syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, neurofibromatosis, or Fanconi anemia

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