What is Leukemia? How does Leukemia affect The symptoms of the

Created by Alan Gaston
• What is Leukemia?
• How does Leukemia affect
• The symptoms of the
• The recovery rate for
adolescents with Leukemia.
• Is there a cure for the
• How can teachers help?
Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells. The word cancer
refers to diseases in which certain cells in the body become
abnormal and the body produces too many of these cells. Leukemia
cells do not function normally and cannot do what normal blood
cells do, such as fight off infection.
The most common types of leukemia are acute lymphoblastic
leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, cronic lymphocytic
leukemia, and chronic myelocytic leukemia. ALL and AML are the
two types of leukemia that affects adolescents the most.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia “affects the body’s blood making
system, including bone marrow and the lymphatic system. It
develops from lymphoblasts (a type of white blood cell) in the bone
marrow.” “Bone marrow is the soft, inner component of bones. All
forms of blood cells are produced in the bone marrow including
white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.”1
Leukemia develops in the bone marrow, but quickly spreads into the
blood, and eventually into the lymph nodes and other parts of the
Mark Oren, MD, FACP, Cancer Health Online.
Leukemia accounts for the largest number of cases of
adolescent and childhood cancer and are the main cause of
cancer related deaths in adolescents in the U.S. Leukemia
accounts for 32 percent of all cancer cases occurring among
adolescents younger than 15 years of age and 26 percent of
cancer cases occurring among those younger than 20.2
The two forms of leukemia that affect adolescents the most are
acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myelogenoul leukemia.
Both forms of the disease progresses very quickly in
adolescents and can have a devastating effect on the individual.
Leukemia influences adolescents emotionally, mentally, and
physically. Fatigue and restlessness are common in leukemia
Research has shown that adolescents with leukemia enjoy going
back to school and other “normal” activities. Many adolescent
individuals that have leukemia go on to lead normal lives.
Malcolm A. Smith, Lynn A. Gloeckler Ries, James G. Gurney, Julie A. Ross, National Cancer Institute,
SEER Pediatric Monograph, Page 17.
Symptoms of the disease can include “frequent infections, poor
healing of small cuts or sores, and anemia.
Other common symptoms include: fevers and night sweats,
weakness and fatigue, headaches, bruising of the skin and
bleeding from the gums, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the
armpit, neck, or groin, and a decreased appetite or weight loss.
Many researchers believe that risk factors include: smoking and
tobacco use, exposure to high doses of radiation or the
chemicals benzene or formaldehyde, and chemotherapy used to
treat other cancers.
Without identification of the disease and successful treatment,
the disease is usually fatal.
During 1995-2001, relative survival rates overall were:
Acute lymphocytic leukemia: 64.6 percent overall; 88.4 percent for
children under 5.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: 74.2 percent.
Acute myelogenous leukemia: 19.8 percent overall; 52 percent for
children under 15.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia: 39.3 percent.
Five-Year Relative Survival Rates for Acute
Lymphocytic Leukemia in Children Under 15 Years,
Sources: SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Cancer Statistics
Review, 1975-2002, National Cancer Institute. The graph shows childhood
ALL five-year relative survival rates have improved significantly over the
past 40 years.
There is optimism within cancer research centers that work with
adolescents with leukemia because survival statistics have
dramatically improved over the past 30 years. Most children and
adolescents with acute lymphocytic leukemia are cured of the
disease if the illness is caught early enough, and treatment is
implemented in time.
The exact cause for leukemia is not known, although research
continues. There is no known cure for leukemia as of today, but
there are forms of treatment for the disease.
The aim of treatment (or an attempt to cure the disease) is to bring
about a complete remission.
Complete remission means that there is no evidence of the disease
and the patient returns to good health with normal blood and
marrow cells. Relapse indicates a return of the cancer cells and the
return of other signs and symptoms of the disease.
For acute leukemia, a complete remission (no evidence of disease
in the blood or marrow) that lasts five years after treatment often
indicates cure.
Treatment centers report increasing numbers of patients with
leukemia who are in complete remission at least five years after
diagnosis of their disease, adolescents included, but there is no
absolute cure as of today.
School is a respite for the adolescent with leukemia. Treat them as
students not as patients or sick people.
Communication with the student and parents to determine an
approach to dealing with absences and make up work is essential.
Graduation and college entrance requirements can be met in spite
of all the absences necessitated by treatment and the illness.
Confidentiality is crucial. Only talk with those people with a right to
know (e.g. the student’s guidance counselor) and those people the
student has agreed to have you talk to. As far as classmates, ask
the student what approach they want to take.
Learn more about the disease so that you understand what the
student is experiencing. This webpage provides a starting point and
there are some other valuable websites as well: