Most leukemia symptoms in children are also symptoms of common, less serious childhood illnesses. Leukemia can be chronic with the symptoms appearing slowly, or it can be acute, and the symptoms may appear rapidly.
Childhood leukemia also affects teenagers. Leukemia causes white blood cells to develop in bone marrow, these then travel through the bloodstream and overwhelm the production of healthy blood cells.
A diagnosis of leukemia can be terrifying, but survival rates continue to improve.
Common symptoms of childhood leukemia
It is important to see a doctor immediately if a child has any of the following symptoms, and a parent or caregiver suspects leukemia.
This occurs when the body is short of red blood cells. Red blood cells are in charge of carrying oxygen around the body, and if someone is not producing enough, they may experience:
- Headaches, vomiting, and seizures
A child may experience the following symptoms if leukemia is affecting the brain or spinal cord:
- blurred vision
- difficulty concentrating
- issues with balance
- Bruising and bleeding
If a child experiences severe nosebleeds, or bleeds from the gums, and bruises easily, this can point to leukemia. A child with this type of cancer will have a lack of platelets that help to prevent bleeding.
- Bone or joint pain
A child may have childhood leukemia if he/she appears to be in pain and complains that their bones or joints are painful. When leukemia develops, the abnormal cells can gather inside joints or close to the surface of the bones.
Swelling can affect different parts of the body, including the abdomen, when abnormal cells collect in the liver and spleen. It can also affect the face and arms, when pressure on a vein called the superior vena cava causes blood to gather in the area. Also, the lymph nodes can be affected when a person notices small lumps forming on the sides of the neck, in the underarms, or on the collarbone.
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Also, tumors from other types of cancer are more likely to mount pressure on the superior vena cava, causing facial swelling. The swelling will be worse when a child wakes up, and it will improve during the day.
- Frequent infections
Children with leukemia have a high white blood cell counts, but most of these cells are not working properly. This is because abnormal cells are supplanting healthy white blood cells. White blood cells protects the body and combats infections.
Recurrent and persistent infections can indicate that a child does not have enough healthy white blood cells.
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- Lack of appetite, stomachache, and weight loss
If leukemia cells have caused swelling in the liver, kidneys, or spleen, these organs can press against the stomach, causing a feeling of fullness or discomfort, a lack of appetite, and ensuing weight loss.
- Coughing or difficulties in breathing
Leukemia can affect parts of the body in and around the chest, such as some lymph nodes or the thymus, a gland located between the lungs.
If these parts of the body swell, they can put pressure on the trachea and make breathing difficult. Seek emergency care if a child is experiencing difficulty breathing.
- Skin rashes
Leukemia cells that spread to the skin can lead to the appearance of small, dark, rash-like spots. This group of cells is called a chloroma or a granulocytic sarcoma, and it is very rare. The bruising and bleeding that depict leukemia can also cause tiny spots called petechiae to appear. These may also look like a rash.
- Extreme fatigue
Leukemia leads to very severe weakness and exhaustion that can result in slurred speech in severe cases. This occurs when leukemia cells collect in the blood, causing the blood to thicken. The blood may be so thick that circulation slows through small vessels in the brain.
- Feeling generally ill
A child may not be able to describe their symptoms in detail, but they may appear to be generally ill. When the cause of a child’s illness is uncertain, see a doctor.
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Early signs of leukemia in children
It can be difficult to spot the earliest signs of leukemia. They can also differ from child to child, not all children with leukemia show the symptoms listed above.
Early symptoms also depend on whether a child has acute or chronic leukemia. The symptoms of acute leukemia often appear quickly, and they may be more perceptible than those of chronic leukemia.
If a parent or caregiver notices any of the symptoms above, it is best to take the child to a doctor as soon as possible. A prompt diagnosis can ensure that the child receives the right treatment quickly.