Understanding Childhood Leukaemia

An exploration into childhood leukaemia, a journey marked by courage, care and the unwavering strengths of families facing the complexities of this condition.
By the team at Speedoc,
February 15, 2024
What is childhood leukaemia?

Leukaemia accounts for 40% of childhood cancer cases in Singapore, making it the most prevalent type of cancer in this age group. This form of cancer impacts the blood and bone marrow, where an overproduction of immature white blood cells occurs. This excessive production hinders the normal function of the bone marrow, affecting the generation of other essential blood cells, including red blood cells and platelets. Consequently, children with leukaemia become more susceptible to infections, experience anaemia, and have an increased likelihood of bleeding due to the impaired ability of normal blood clotting.

While there are different types of leukaemia, the 2 primary types of leukaemia that affect children are:

  1. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL): 

  2. Mainly affects the lymphoid cells, which are responsible for the immune system’s function. ALL starts in the bone marrow and spreads quickly to other body parts like the central nervous system, liver, lymph nodes, spleen and testicles in male patients. Approximately 80% of childhood leukaemia cases are ALL. 

  3. Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML): 

  4. Targets the myeloid cells, which are responsible for the production of red blood cells, platelets and certain types of white blood cells. AML first starts from the bone marrow then spreads to the blood, followed by other body parts similar to ALL. Approximately 20% of childhood leukaemia cases are AML.

Leukaemia can be acute (fast developing) and chronic (slow developing). Chronic leukaemia is extremely rare in children, only 5% of cases are diagnosed as chronic. 

Recognising the signs 

Leukaemia can be a perplexing journey, it often begins with subtle signs that may easily be attributed to common childhood ailments. These signs include:

  • Fatigue and weakness: Persistent lethargy and weakness that hinders a child’s usual activities.

  • Frequent infections: A higher susceptibility to infections and a prolonged recovery period.

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding: Easy bruising or bleeding, even with minor injuries.

  • Joint and bone pain: Aching or pain in the joints and bones, sometimes misinterpreted as growing pains.

  • Pale skin: An unusual pallor or paleness that may signal a decline in red blood cells.

While these signs may be indicative of various health issues, it's crucial for parents and caregivers to stay vigilant and consult with healthcare professionals if these symptoms persist or intensify. Early detection plays a crucial role in ensuring effective treatment. Familiarising yourself with the symptoms of childhood leukaemia can make a significant difference in initiating timely medical intervention, improving the chances of successful outcomes in the treatment journey.

Risk factors

Some known risk factors include:

  1. Genetic factors

  2. Exposure to radiation

  3. Chemical exposure

  4. Previous cancer treatment

  5. Certain medical conditions related to autoimmune diseases

Despite these factors, a significant number of leukaemia cases occur in individuals without any identifiable risk factors. If you have concerns about leukaemia or any other health issues, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice and guidance.

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A Pillar Of Strength

Coping with childhood leukaemia extends beyond medical interventions, emotional support is a vital pillar. For parents, time may seem to stop and the world becomes a maze of fear and uncertainty. However, through this trying journey, parents remain as the constant source of strength for their child. Here are some guidance that you may find useful:  

  • Emotional Support

Acknowledge their feelings and fears, fostering an environment where the child feels comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Child life specialists or counsellors can help the child cope with the emotional challenges associated with cancer treatment.

  • Comfortable Environment

Ensure your child’s living space is comfortable by incorporating favourite toys, books or other personal items to create a sense of familiarity.

  • Nutrition and Hydration

Encourage regular hydration, especially if treatment causes nausea or changes in appetite. Develop a well-balanced diet that meets your child’s nutritional needs during treatment.

  • Social Connections

Stay connected with friends and classmates, even if it means virtual interactions during periods of isolation. Involve friends and family in your child’s journey, creating a network of emotional support.


While caring for your child, avoid neglecting your own emotional well-being too. Connecting with friends and families facing similar challenges can provide a sense of understanding and shared strength. Counselling services also offer a safe space for emotional expression and coping strategies.

As we delve into the complexities of childhood leukaemia, the landscape is evolving with ongoing research and advancements in medical science. Increased awareness, early detection, and comprehensive support systems are vital for brighter outcomes for young warriors facing this silent battle.

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