Leukaemia FAQs

Below, we try to answer the questions you most frequently ask about leukaemia.

Click on your question to reveal the answer.

If your question isn't here, please email us or call us on 020 7404 0808 and we'll be happy to try and help.
What are the symptoms of leukaemia?
The symptoms of childhood leukaemia are not very specific. They include the following:

•    Frequent, persistent infections
•    Unusual bleeding and bruising
•    Tiredness, paleness and breathlessness

It should be emphasised that leukaemia in children is rare and most children exhibiting these symptoms will NOT have leukaemia.

If you are worried about your child you should see your GP.

Read more: Information on cancer types
How is leukaemia diagnosed?
Because of the non-specific symptoms, leukaemia can be difficult to spot.  But once suspected it can be diagnosed easily by a routine blood test. The blood test will determine whether there are leukaemic cells in the blood.

The diagnosis will be confirmed by taking a bone marrow sample. This will give doctors more information about the type of leukaemia affecting the child, enabling them to determine the best course of treatment.
How common is leukaemia?
Leukaemia is the most common form of cancer in children. Around 450 children are diagnosed with leukaemia every year in the UK.

More than half of these children are under the age of five years.

Read more: Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia  | Acute myeloid leukaemia  | Chronic myeloid leukaemia
What causes leukaemia?
We don’t really know why children develop leukaemia. But we know that the development of leukaemia is a two-stage process.

The first stage (usually) takes places whilst the child is still in the womb. The second stage – and the transformation to full-blown leukaemia – takes place at some later point.

It's thought that one or both of these stages may be triggered by some environmental factor

Read more: The causes of childhood leukaemia
What is a central line?
A central line, also known as a Hickman line, is a tube which is used to give chemotherapy. It goes into the chest and directly into one of the major blood vessels.

The end of the central line protrudes from the chest and is sealed off with a cap. It usually stays in place for the duration of treatment.

Having a central line avoids the needs for repeated injections as all intravenous medication can be given through the line. The line can also be used to collect blood samples which are frequently required during leukaemia treatment.

Read more: Treatment
What is donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI)?
DLI is a treatment used in patients who have relapsed following a stem cell (also known as bone marrow) transplant. The procedure uses lymphocytes (white blood cells) from the same donor to boost the life-saving effects of the original transplant.

Read more: Treatment
What is minimal residual disease?
Every child will have some leukaemia cells remaining in their bone marrow when they achieve remission. This is known as minimal residual disease (MRD)

Read more: Minimal residual disease
What does being "in relapse" mean?
A child is said to be in relapse if the leukaemia returns once they have achieved remission.

Read more: Childhood cancer
What does being "in remission" mean?
A child is said to have achieved remission when the majority of the leukaemia cells in their bone marrow have been destroyed and their bone marrow can resume normal function. This usually happens within the first few weeks of treatment.

Read more: Childhood cancer

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