What are the Earliest Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia?

What are the Earliest Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia?

Leukemia is a serious disease which has equal chances of hitting the adults. It can be chronic and the symptoms may take some time to appear. In other cases, leukemia is acute and the associated symptoms arise rather quickly.

Childhood leukemia also tends to affect teens. It is, in fact, one of the most common types of cancer in children under the age of 15 years, as per the National Cancer Institute of the United States.

According to the estimates, approximately 4000 children in the United States are affected by leukemia per year.

Leukemia is a type of blood disorder. It stimulates the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. These cells then travel via the bloodstream in order to suppress the production of healthy blood cells.

Getting diagnosed with leukemia is certainly frightening, but the survival rates of this disease are improving continuously.

What are the Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia?

If a child suffers from any of the following symptoms and a caregiver suspects possible leukemia, it is necessary to contact a doctor.

  1. Anemia

Anemia mostly occurs when your body has a shortage of red blood cells. These cells are mainly responsible for carrying oxygen all around the body. If you fall short of these cells, the following symptoms may be seen:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Paleness of skin
  • A headache
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling cold unusually
  1. Frequent Infections

Children suffering from leukemia may even have a high amount of white blood cells in their bodies but most of these cells do not tend to function properly.

This is due to the fact that the abnormal cells are taking over the white blood cells.

Because white blood cells help to protect your body and keep the infections away, getting infected over and over again may indicate a suspected leukemia.

What are the Earliest Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia?

Recurrent and persistent infections may indicate that a child is not having a sufficient amount of healthy white blood cells in his body.

  1. Bleeding and Bruising

If your child gets bruises quite easily, suffers from severe nosebleeds or bleeding from gums, all this could be indicative of leukemia.

Such a child has a particular type of cancer in which there is a lack of platelets to stop bleeding.

  1. Joint or Bone Pain

If a child is in pain and often complains that his joints or bones are achy and sore, this could be indicative of childhood leukemia.

RELATED: Leukemia: Causes, Kinds, Treatment And Survival Rate

As leukemia develops, the abnormal cells start collecting inside the joints. Sometimes, they are also seen accumulating close to the surface of the patient’s bones.

  1. Inflammation

A child suffering from leukemia can develop inflammation in different parts of his body such as:

  • The abdomen as the abnormal cells start collecting in the spleen and liver
  • The arms and face, as the pressure on a vein known as the superior vena cava, allows blood pooling in the area
  • The lymph nodes as a person start noticing small lumps at the side of his neck, on the collarbone, and around the underarms

It is important to know that a child having swollen lymph nodes with no other symptoms is more likely to suffer from an infection instead of leukemia.

Moreover, tumors due to other forms of cancer are more likely to pressurize the superior vena cava leading to facial swelling. This swelling is worse as a child wakes up and usually improves as the day passes.

This condition is known as superior vena cava syndrome which is rarely seen in any suspected case of leukemia. However, it is a potentially life-threatening situation and demands emergency medical care.

  1. Digestive Issues and Weight Loss

If the leukemia cells cause the swelling in the kidneys, liver, or spleen, these organs may swell up and start pressing against your stomach.

As a result, you may start feeling fuller or suffer from extreme digestive discomfort. You may lose your appetite and consequently a large portion of your weight.

  1. Breathing Difficulties

Leukemia can spread and affects other parts of your body, mainly around and inside your chests such as the lymph nodes or the thymus.

As these parts inflame, they start putting a lot of pressure on your trachea making it difficult to breathe normally.

Breathing difficulties can also occur if the leukemic cells start building up in the small blood vessels present inside your lungs.

If a child suspected of leukemia starts experiencing breathing difficulties, contact a medical specialist immediately.

  1. Vomiting, Headaches, and Seizures

If leukemia starts affecting your spinal cord or the brain, a child may suffer from:

  • Weakness
  • A headache
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Vomiting
  • Problems in maintaining balance
  • Blurry vision
  1. Rashes on Skin

The leukemic cells spreading to the skin may lead to the appearance of tiny, dark, rash-like spots. The collection of these cells is referred to as a chloroma or a type of granulocytic sarcoma. This condition is, however, quite rare.

The bleeding and bruising included among the symptoms of leukemia may also cause tiny dots called petechiae to appear. These spots may also appear to be a form of rashes.

What are the Earliest Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia?

  1. Extreme Fatigue

In certain rare cases, leukemia may lead to extreme weakness and exhaustion which may cause blurring of speech.

This usually occurs when the leukemic cells start collecting in the blood and cause it to thicken. The blood may become so thick that its circulation slows down, mainly in the vessels passing through the brain.

  1. A General Feeling of being Unwell

A child may be unable to describe his symptoms in detail but they complain of being ill generally.

When the cause of a child’s sickness is unclear, make sure to book an appointment with the doctor.

What are the Early Signs of Leukemia in Children?

The earliest signs of a childhood leukemia may be hard to diagnose. They may vary from one child to another and not all of them may depict the symptoms mentioned above.

These symptoms also depend upon whether a child suffers from an acute or chronic form of leukemia. In the case of acute leukemia, the symptoms are fast to appear and maybe a lot noticeable.

On the other hand, the symptoms of a chronic leukemia are milder and take time to develop.

If a parent or a caregiver finds any of the above-listed symptoms in their children, it is better to take the child to a health specialist right away. A fast diagnosis ensures that the child receives the right kind of treatment as quickly as possible.


There are a number of cases of childhood leukemia and the outlook of a child mainly depends on the type of it in addition to a number of other factors.

Regardless of this, diagnosing and treating particular leukemia can significantly improve the outcomes. It is extremely important for a parent or a caregiver to discuss in detail any concerns regarding the health of a child with a doctor as soon as possible.

Doctors are able to treat a lot of cases of childhood leukemia with a high success rate. The methods of this treatment are advancing and the survival rates are continuing to improve for the majority.


Nancy Walker

Nancy holds a Medicine degree and a Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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