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What is leukemia?
Leukemia is blood cancer. It develops in the bone marrow—the soft, spongy center of the long bones that produces the three major blood cells:
Normal, healthy cells only reproduce when there is enough space for them to fit, and the body regulates this by sending signals so the cells know when to stop. When your child has leukemia, two things happen:
What is chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)?
In chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), the white blood cells that are affected are a specific kind called myeloid cells, or “myeloblasts.”
As you read further below, you will find general information about CML. If you would like to view summary information about cancer first, see the cancer overview.
How common is leukemia? Who develops it?
Leukemia is the most common form of cancer in childhood.
What causes CML?
In nearly all cases, it’s not known what causes leukemia. In the majority of childhood leukemias, gene mutations and chromosome abnormalities in the leukemia cells occur sporadically (by chance). The abnormalities found in leukemia cells are not found in the other cells of the body, but if your child has CML, he may have other chromosome abnormalities.
CML is often accompanied by a specific type of chromosome rearrangement:
Can damage to the child’s immune system lead to leukemia?
Your child’s immune system plays an important role in protecting his body from diseases, and possibly cancer. This means that an alteration or defect in his immune system may increase the risk for developing leukemia.
Factors such as exposure to certain viruses, environmental factors, chemical exposures and various infections have been associated with damage to the immune system, but none of these factors has been definitively linked as a cause of childhood leukemia.
What are the different types of leukemia?
In addition to chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), there are two other main types of leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
How do myelogenous leukemias differ from lymphoblastic leukemia?
A different type of white blood cell is affected. In myelogenous leukemias (both CML and AML) it’s the granulocyte; in lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), it’s another kind called a lymphocyte. In all cases—CML, AML and ALL—the cells become abnormal, reproduce too quickly, ignore orders to stop, and crowd out healthy blood cells.
What’s the difference between CML and AML?
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML):
What are the symptoms of CML?
With CML, there are usually no symptoms in the early stages. When then do occur, your child may experience symptoms over a period of months or even years. Often, CML may be discovered when your child is having a routine blood test for other reasons.
Because leukemia is cancer of the blood-forming bone marrow, the initial symptoms are often related to abnormal bone marrow function. The bone marrow is responsible for storing and producing about 95 percent of the body's blood cells, including the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. While each child may experience symptoms of CML differently, some of the most common include:
It is important to understand that the symptoms of leukemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. These are common symptoms of the disease, but do not include all possible symptoms. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”