Leukaemia is a form of cancer.
It occurs when the body makes too many immature white blood cells.
What are the symptoms of leukaemia?
The symptoms of leukaemia are:
those of anaemia:
tiredness and lethargy
bleeding and bruising
How common is leukaemia in children?
Cancer tends to be a disease that
occurs more often as we get older and all cancers, including leukaemia,
are uncommon in children. This is one of the reasons why people
get worried when they know that several children have developed leukaemia
in one area.
Below are some facts about the
incidence of childhood leukaemia:
Leukaemia is the most frequent type of cancer in children (0-14 years).
About 1/3 of all cancers in children are due to leukaemia.
It occurs most commonly between the ages of 1-4.
Around 450 cases of childhood leukaemia occur in the UK each year.
Out of every 1,000,000 children under 15 we would expect about 40 to get
leukaemia in one year.
During the first 15 years of life about 1 in every 1,700 children will
It is slightly more common in boys than in girls.
What causes leukaemia?
The cause of leukaemia is not known.
Leukaemia is known to be associated with certain risk factors including:
Recent work that suggests that it
is possible that childhood leukaemia may be associated with viral infections
and may be influenced by rural isolation (it is more common in rural than
in urban communities) and the migration of people who bring new patterns
of infection to a stable community 1.
Although leukaemia is known
to be associated with these various risk factors most cases of leukaemia
are not associated with any known risk factor.
"Most individual cases of childhood leukaemia
cannot be explained on the basis of any specific risk factor." 2
Leukaemia Research Fund
Environmental risk factors that
are associated with leukaemia will be discussed in more detail later in
How is leukaemia treated?
Leukaemia is treated in several
combination chemotherapy (this is where several different drugs that kill
cancer cells are given to a patient)
bone marrow transplantation. Bone marrow contains the cells that
make blood for the body. When patients are treated with very strong
chemotherapy or radiotherapy it can kill off these blood-making cells.
Without these cells we die but they can be replaced by a bone marrow transplant.
Replacement bone marrow can come from another person (for example a brother
or sister of the patient) or can be collected and saved from the patient
prior to starting bone marrow damaging treatment.
What happens to children with leukaemia?
Prior to 1970 most children with
leukaemia died; now most children survive. As more children have
been entered into clinical trials so the effectiveness of treatments has
improved. The five-year survival rate for those treated in 1971-3
was 37% but by 1980-2 this had risen to 66% 3.
This improvement has continued and five-year survival rates are now well
over 70% 4. It is predicted that
survival will continue to improve.