Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells produced in the bone marrow.

What is a cancerous cell?

Cells make up all the tissues and organs in the human body. With cells are genetic material (DNA) which tell the cells what to do. DNA sends messages to cells telling them when to divide and when to die. Cancer occurs when DNA gives incorrect instructions to a cell. In a cancerous cell, the DNA is damaged. These cells grow uncontrollably, divide when they shouldn’t and live longer than they should.

What is Bone Marrow?

Bone marrow is located in the center of bones and creates blood cells. There are three types of blood cells made in the bone marrow: 1) red blood cells which carry oxygen to the body; 2) white blood cells which fight infection; 3) platelets which help stop bleeding.

Types of Leukemia:

  • ACUTE LYMPHOBLASTIC LEUKEMIA (ALL) involves the blood-forming cells that normally make a type of white blood cell named lymphocytes. When a single young blood-forming cell mutates, it transforms into a leukemia cell, which multiplies uncontrollably and crowds out healthy cells in the bone marrow. There are different types of ALL and knowing the type of ALL can be important in guiding a treatment plan. The most common type of ALL is called precursor-B and it affects a-cell lymphocytes as they are developing. Another type of ALL affects the development of T-cell lymphocytes.

  • ACUTE MYELOID LEUKEMIA (AML) involves the blood forming cells called myeloid cells. These cells include certain types of white blood cells, called granulocytes and monocytes, as well as red blood cells and platelets. AML begins when a single young blood-forming cell develops a series of mistakes or mutations that transform it into a leukemia cell, which then multiples uncontrollably. There are many different subtypes of AML, including myeloblastic, promyelocytic, and monocytic leukemia.

  • CHRONIC MYELOID LEUKEMIA (CML) is a cancer that grows slowly. CML beings when a blood-forming cell develops a change in its genetic code. This abnormality, called the Philadelphia chromosome, tells the cell to multiply out of control, generating large numbers of abnormal white blood cells.

  • JUVENILE MYELOMONCYTIC LEUKEMIA (JMML) is rare and usually occurs in very young children. A type of white blood cell, called an immature monocyte, is overproduced by the bone marrow. These cells crowd out healthy cells, often causing fatigue, bleeding and other symptoms.


How Is Leukemia Treated?

Each cancer is treated differently, as is each individual case. Oncologists and specialists work with the parents to create a specific treatment plan for each case. Variants that may play a role in a child’s treatment plan may include: type (and subtype) of leukemia, prognostic factors, risk level, changes within the leukemia cells, child’s age and overall health.

Treatment options MAY* include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy – a medicine that stops cells from growing or by destroying cells. There are several types of chemotherapy medicines, which stop the growth of cells or destroy these cells in a different way.
  • Radiation therapy – delivered either externally or internally, this form of therapy is when high energy beams are given to damage DNA and destroy rapidly growing cells. It is delivered to a specific part of the body, as opposed to the whole body (which is the case in chemotherapy).
  • Other treatments may include a stem cell transplant, targeted therapy, and supportive therapy.

Statistics

  • Leukemia accounts for almost 1 out of 3 cancers in children.
  • ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer.
  • About 4 out of every 5 children who have leukemia will have ALL.
  • About 1 out of every 5 children who have leukemia will have AML.
  • Only about 1 out of every 50 children who have leukemia will have CMC.
  • Less than 1 in 100 children who have leukemia will have JMML.

If your family or someone you know is facing childhood cancer, call us at 403 216 9210 or email us to learn more about our resources and services available.