Leukemia and Lymphoma in Children

Kim Maryniak, PhD, RNC-NIC, NEA-BC

Leukemia Children

There are many forms of childhood cancer. Of these, Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents, accounting for about one out of three cancers in children. Acute lymphocytic leukemia, also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common hematologic malignancy found in children. Fortunately ALL is treatable and can be cured. Survival rates have increased dramatically in recent decades due to advances in research and chemotherapy treatment (National Cancer Institute, 2018a). Children who are diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma develop symptoms and side effects which are different than those experienced by adults. The initial signs and symptoms of childhood cancer can be insidious. Additionally, young children may be unable to communicate pain or discomfort associated with the disease process (American Society of Clinical Oncology [ASCO], 2018).

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood cells. In the presence of leukemia, the bone marrow makes large amounts of abnormal white cells which increase and multiply. The abnormal white cells crowd out red blood cells and platelets resulting in anemia and thrombocytopenia. As the abnormal white cells multiply, the child will become ill and exhibit signs of leukemia. However, it is not uncommon for children who present with leukemia to be asymptomatic. Signs and symptoms of leukemia which do occur are a result of inadequate blood cells. Treatment for leukemia includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow or stem cell transplant (ACS, 2018b).

Lymphoma is a type of cancer which develops in the lymphatic system and is more commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. Abnormal lymphocytes grow, multiply, and form tumor masses. Lymphomas generally start in the lymph nodes or in organs. Lymphomas can spread to the bone marrow and throughout the body (ACS, 2018a). The most common early sign of lymphoma is painless swelling or lump in the neck, upper chest, groin, armpits, and abdomen. Treatment for lymphoma may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, bone marrow or stem cell transplant (National Cancer Institute, 2018b).

Leukemia and lymphoma are considered common forms of cancer in children and adolescents, impacting up to 33% of childhood cancer patients. Most children will experience symptoms of the disease prior to diagnosis, however a lack of outward symptoms is not uncommon. These cancers require a combination of therapies to manage and treat the disease. For more information, review the RN.com course Childhood Leukemia and Lymphoma.

American Cancer Society (ACS). (2018a). Hodgkin lymphoma. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin-lymphoma/about.html

American Cancer Society (ACS). (2018e). Leukemia in children: About childhood leukemia. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemia-in-children/about.html

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). (2018). Childhood cancer: Symptoms and signs. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/childhood-cancer/symptoms-and-signs

National Cancer Institute (NCI). (2018a) Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment (PDQ®): Health professional version. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/child-all-treatment-pdq

National Cancer Institute (NCI). (2018b) Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment (PDQ®): Health professional version. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/lymphoma/hp/child-nhl-treatment-pdq

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