Beat That Big C – The New Indian Express
Express news service
BENGALURU: Childhood leukemia, or cancer of the blood, is cancer of the white blood cells. It is the most common type of cancer in children and adolescents. Abnormal white blood cells grow in the bone marrow and move quickly through the bloodstream and repel healthy cells.
The incidence of cancer in children is approximately 1 in 10,000. Leukemia is the most common type of blood cancer that affects children and adolescents aged 0-19 years, with a peak incidence between the age groups of 2 to 5 years. According to Globocan 2020 reports, more than 20,000 new cases of childhood blood cancer are diagnosed each year in India, including nearly 15,000 cases of leukemia detected.
Childhood leukemia includes – acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – which comprises about 75% of all childhood leukemia; Acute myeloid leukemia (myeloid) (AML), chronic myelogenous (myeloid) leukemia (CML), juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JML) and mixed lineage leukemia.
Although the cause is not known, however, in a few cases the following factors may play a role.
Genetic: Risk factors that are part of DNA repair usually lead to leukemia, which is often inherited from parents. Children born with Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome are some of the genetic syndromes.
Suppression of the immune system: Children who are treated with intensive therapy to suppress their immune system are at greater risk for certain cancers such as lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Environment: Exposure to certain radiation or nuclear energy, chemical contamination of groundwater and pollutants in the environment may present the risk of contracting the disease.
A high index of suspicion is the key to an early diagnosis. Regular follow-up with your pediatrician is very important.
Blood tests (CBC – complete blood count) are done to quantify the number of blood cells and their appearance.
The diagnosis of leukemia is usually confirmed by a bone marrow puncture and / or a biopsy usually taken from the pelvic bone.
The pathologist also examines the blood and bone marrow samples to track the number of blood cells forming, their type to classify leukemia.
Advances in pediatric hematologic and oncologic disorders are one of the major changes that have improved cure rates and quality of life for children. The main treatment for childhood leukemia is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is nothing more than drugs used to treat cancer and they are usually given by mouth or intravenously. Children diagnosed with high-risk leukemia may need an allogeneic stem cell transplant (GMO) from a healthy donor. Radiation therapy is also a treatment module used to treat childhood cancer.
Another type of treatment used for relapsing and refractory leukemia is CAR T-cell therapy. It is a form of immunotherapy. Cells are taken from the blood before being modified by inserting new genes, which work better and destroy cancer cells.
In general, since the exact causative factors are not known in childhood leukemia, preventive strategies are difficult to implement. However, certain factors like radiation exposure, a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding environmental risks will help reduce the risk of childhood leukemia.
(The author is a consultant pediatric hemato-oncologist, HCG Cancer Hospital Bengaluru)