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Childhood Leukemia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Childhood leukemia is a complex disease that can be caused by a variety of factors, including inherited gene mutations and environmental exposures. The exact cause of most childhood leukemias is not yet fully understood, but scientists have made significant progress in recent years in identifying some of the key factors that contribute to the disease.

What Causes Childhood Leukemia?

Inherited versus acquired gene mutations

One important factor is inherited gene mutations. Some children may inherit DNA mutations from a parent that increase their risk of developing leukemia. For example, the Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a condition that results from an inherited mutation of the TP53 tumor suppressor gene, which can increase a person’s risk of developing leukemia and other cancers. However, most childhood leukemias do not seem to be caused by inherited mutations. Instead, DNA mutations related to leukemia often develop after conception, and some of these mutations may occur even before birth.

Combinations of genetic and environmental factors

In addition to genetic factors, environmental exposures can also play a role in the development of childhood leukemia. Exposure to radiation and cancer-causing chemicals can sometimes result in acquired mutations that increase a child’s risk of developing leukemia. Other factors that may put some children at higher risk of genetic damage include infections and exposure to high levels of certain chemicals. Some research suggests that some childhood leukemias may be caused by a combination of certain gene changes that occur early in life, along with exposure to certain viruses later on.

Despite the many factors that can contribute to childhood leukemia, early detection, and treatment can greatly improve outcomes for affected children. Common symptoms of childhood leukemia include fatigue, fever, night sweats, inability to breathe, and pale skin, among others. If you suspect that your child may be experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. With prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many children with leukemia are able to overcome this disease and go on to live long healthy lives.

Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia

Symptoms from low red blood cell counts (anemia):

Childhood leukemia is a serious disease that can cause a variety of symptoms related to low blood cell counts. Anemia, or low red blood cell counts, can lead to feelings of fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath, as well as paler skin. This condition can occur as a result of leukemia, which disrupts the production of red blood cells.

Symptoms from a lack of normal white blood cells: 

In addition to anemia, leukemia can also cause a lack of normal white blood cells, which can lead to frequent infections. Children with leukemia often have high white blood cell counts, but these cells are not effective at fighting off infections, leaving the body vulnerable to illness. Fever is a common symptom of infection, but some children may experience fever without any apparent cause.

Symptoms from low blood platelet count:

Leukemia can also cause low blood platelet counts, which can lead to easy bruising and bleeding, as well as frequent or severe nosebleeds and bleeding gums. Children who experience these symptoms may be showing signs of leukemia, which can affect the production of platelets that help prevent bleeding.

It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of childhood leukemia so that they can seek prompt medical attention if they suspect that their child may be ill. While the disease can be difficult to diagnose, early detection and treatment can improve outcomes and increase the chances of a successful recovery.

How is leukemia treated in children?

Leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, can be a devastating diagnosis for children and their families. To determine the best treatment approach, doctors will typically conduct a thorough physical exam to look for signs of leukemia, such as swollen lymph nodes, pale skin, or enlargement of the liver and spleen. Blood tests and bone marrow tests may also be performed to confirm a leukemia diagnosis and determine the type of leukemia.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, treatment options can include chemotherapy, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant, targeted therapy drugs, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. The specific treatment approach will depend on the type of leukemia and other factors, such as the child’s age and overall health. For most childhood leukemias, chemotherapy is the primary treatment.

Phases of Leukemia Treatment

Chemotherapy is typically given in three main phases: induction, consolidation, and maintenance. The length of treatment can range from 2 to 3 years, with the most intense treatment occurring in the first few months. Children with ALL are often classified by risk group to ensure that the appropriate types and doses of drugs are given. Treatment for childhood leukemia is often very intense, and it’s crucial that it takes place at a specialized cancer center.

In summary, while a leukemia diagnosis in a child can be overwhelming, there are many treatment options available. Through a combination of physical exams, blood tests, and specialized testing of leukemia cells, doctors can determine the best course of treatment. With chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, targeted therapy drugs, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, many children with leukemia can go on to lead healthy lives.

What is the Outlook for a Child with Leukemia?

Leukemia is a serious medical condition that can have a significant impact on a child’s life. When it comes to assessing a child’s outlook, it is important to consider a variety of factors. One key measure of success is overall survival, which can range from 45% to 81% for childhood ALL and AML in India, with event-free survival typically being >50%. However, it is crucial to understand that every child’s case is unique, so it is essential to discuss their specific circumstances with a doctor.

What Are the Long-Term Complications?

Long-term complications are also a concern for children who have undergone treatment for leukemia. These complications can vary widely in severity and type, including heart and lung problems, learning difficulties, fertility issues, and bone problems. Additionally, there is a risk of second cancer developing later in life. Regular follow-up care is vital for survivors of childhood leukemia to monitor for possible long-term or late effects of treatment. Several factors, such as treatment type and duration, age at the time of treatment, gender, and overall health, can influence the likelihood of these complications.

It is important to approach the topic of childhood leukemia with care and sensitivity, given the potentially life-altering impact it can have on affected children and their families. While there are many factors to consider when assessing a child’s outlook, it is important to remember that every child’s experience is unique, and treatment and care should be tailored to their specific needs.


There are several types of childhood leukemia. The most common types are Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). Other rare types of leukemia in children include Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML), Mixed lineage leukemia (MPAL), and Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

There is no known way to prevent most childhood cancers at this time. Most children with leukemia have no known risk factors, so there is no sure way to prevent these leukemias from developing. However, having an awareness of exposures to benzene and pesticides, avoiding unnecessary medical radiation, not smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet may help reduce the odds of developing the disease.

The most common type of childhood leukemia is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). It accounts for about 75 percent of all cases.

While some genetic factors increase the risk of childhood leukemia, most leukemias are not linked to any known genetic causes. Some research suggests that some childhood leukemias might be caused by a combination of certain gene changes that happen very early in life, along with being exposed to certain viruses later than normal. Some studies have suggested that many childhood leukemias may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Childhood leukemia itself does not cause infertility. However, some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can have long-lasting effects on fertility. Infertility, which is the inability to conceive a child naturally, can be one of the side effects of both chemotherapy and radiation. Treatment advancements have increased survivorship among children diagnosed with leukemia to 80 percent. However, the long-lasting effects of chemotherapy and radiation can leave children battling infertility and hormone imbalances later in life.

Childhood leukemia is a type of cancer and its duration varies from person to person. The length of treatment for childhood leukemia depends on many factors such as the type of leukemia, the age of the child, and how well leukemia responds to treatment. Treatment for childhood leukemia typically lasts for 2-3 years. However, some children may require additional treatment if their leukemia does not respond well to initial treatment or if it comes back after treatment.

The exact cause of most childhood leukemias is not known. However, some studies suggest that childhood leukemia is a paradox of progress in modern societies – with a lack of microbial exposure early in life resulting in immune system malfunction. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is particularly prevalent in advanced, affluent societies and is increasing in incidence at around 1 percent per year. Professor Mel Greaves suggests that childhood ALL might be preventable if a child’s immune system is properly ‘primed’ in the first year of life.

To diagnose childhood leukemia, the doctor will take a thorough medical history and do a physical exam. Tests are used to diagnose childhood leukemia as well as classify its type. Blood tests are usually the first tests done to look for leukemia. A complete blood count (CBC) is done to determine how many blood cells of each type are in the blood. For a blood smear, a small sample of blood is spread on a glass slide and looked at under a microscope. If leukemia is suspected, bone marrow aspiration and biopsy are usually done to confirm the diagnosis. A pathologist examines cells from blood tests and bone marrow samples under a microscope.

Childhood leukemia is a serious disease, but it is treatable. Thanks to advances in treatment methods, the five-year survival rate for childhood leukemia has greatly improved over the past several decades. The five-year survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood leukemia, is now around 90%. The five-year survival rate for acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is lower, at 65-70%. However, it’s important to note that survival rates are only estimates and can vary depending on many factors such as the child’s age and overall health.

Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and teens, accounting for almost 1 out of 3 cancers. The exact cause of most childhood leukemias is not known. Most children with leukemia do not have any known risk factors. Scientists have learned that certain changes in the DNA inside normal bone marrow cells can cause them to grow out of control and become leukemia cells.

Yes, childhood leukemia can come back after treatment. This is called a relapse. Between 15 and 20 percent of children who are treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and achieve an initial complete remission will have the disease return. The likelihood that an individual will have a relapse can vary based on the type of leukemia. Relapses are not uncommon with many types of leukemia.

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