Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. There are two different types of white blood cells, lymphoid cells (known as lymphocytes) and myeloid cells, therefore there are two types of leukaemia, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). (NHS, 2016)
Within our bone marrow are immature cells called stem cells. These cells will develop into one of three type including red blood cells (cells that carry oxygen), white blood cells (cells that fight infection) and platelets (cells that help blood to clot). Once a stem cell develops into one of these three types it is released into the blood. In a patient with Leukaemia these cells do not fully develop before they are released, leading to a reduction in the number of healthy cells in the blood. These cells are known as blast cells, and are unable to perform the functions of normal cells in the bloodstream. Without a balance of healthy cells, the patient can suffer symptoms including vulnerability to infection, anaemia and a risk of excessive bleeding. 1
Incidences of Leukaemia
Leukaemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children in the UK. The number of children in England diagnosed between 2003 and 2012 was 4,129 accounting for 29% of all childhood cancers diagnosed in that period2
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia affects the lymphoid cells, cells which fight viral infections. ALL can occur in both adults and children3
AML symptoms can develop over a few weeks and become increasingly more severe as time passes. Symptoms can include: pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness, unusual bleeding, high temperatures, bone and joint pain, swollen glands, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss. In some cases the blast cells can spread from the bloodstream to the central nervous system, creating neurological symptoms including headache, seizures, vomiting, blurred vision and dizziness 4
It is not clear why ALL forms, and in most cases the causes are hard to identify. However there are a number of factors that can increase the likelihood of developing ALL including previous treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome, weakened immune system and obesity5
The number of children in England Diagnosed between 2003 and 2012 was 3,277 accounting for 77% of Leukemia’s diagnosed in that period5
Chemotherapy is the main treatment used for ALL, however a bone marrow transplant may also be considered prior to the chemotherapy. Because of the symptoms of ALL, other treatments may also be required such as antibiotics to fight infections or a blood transfusion1
Although free of cancer, approximately 60% of childhood cancer survivors will suffer from a “late-effect” caused by the treatments used to save their lives5
Acute Myeloid Leukemia affect the Myeloid Cells, cells whch perform functions such as fighting bacterial infections and preventing the spread of tissue damage. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia can occur in both adults and children. There are around 325 new cases diagnosed in children each year.
AML symptoms can develop over a few weeks and become increasingly more severe as time passes. Symptoms can include: pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness, frequent infections and unusual bleeding.
It is not clear why AML forms, and in most cases a cause is hard to identify. However, there are a number of factors that can increase the likelihood of developing AML including previous treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, an underlying blood disorder and in some cases a genetic disorder such a Down’s syndrome.
The number of children in England Diagnosed between 2003 and 2012 was 698 accounting for 16.5% of Leukemia’s diagnosed in that period2
Chemotherapy is the main treatment used for AML, which aims to destroy the luekemia cells so the bone marrow can function. If a child has leukemia that is likely to return or has already recurred, a bone marrow transplant may be considered
The below is based on the five year survival rate for children who were diagnosed under the age of 15 in England.
For those diagnosed in 2008-2012 the survival rate was 67%.<a href=”www.ncin.org.uk/cancer_type_and_topic_specific_work/cancer_type_specific_work/cancer_in_children_teenagers_and_young_adults/”>2</a>
Charlotte Jennings was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia at the age of 11. When her first round of chemotherapy failed, Charlotte had to take a second round of the treatment, which caused side effects including leaking kidneys. Now 15 and cancer-free, Charlotte unfortunately faces the reality that the treatments used to treat her cancer, have left her with life-long side effects. Read Charlotte’s Story >