Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood. It's not hereditary.

You can't catch it. Yet it kills more of our children than any other disease. And incidence is increasing.In a leukaemic child, the bone marrow produces large numbers of abnormal white cells.

These are unable to carry out their normal function of fighting infection. In addition, these abnormal cells displace the normal production of red cells and platelets which are vital in supplying oxygen and stopping bleeding respectively.

Fifty years ago a diagnosis of leukaemia was almost certainly a death sentence for a child. But breakthroughs in treatment mean than more than 70 per cent of children diagnosed with leukaemia now survive.

Children are treated with intensive courses of powerful, anti-cancer drugs, putting their young bodies under enormous strain.

Treatments that depress the immune system leave the body unguarded against illness and even common infections can be extremely dangerous.

The drugs also carry a risk of long-term side effects. Most children respond well to drug treatments that destroy the leukaemia cells and “kick-start” the body into producing new, healthy white blood cells.

But a minority of children will require further help in the form of a stem cell transplant. Stem cells are used to bolster the immune system by replacing unhealthy blood cells.

But transplants depend on the availability of stem cells, which are harvested from the bone marrow of donors.

Tissue matching must be carried out to minimise the risk of the donor cells being rejected by the recipient's immune system. In some cases it can prove difficult to find matched donors and the delays caused can seriously compromise the patient's chance of recovery.


LEUKAEMIA in children can be triggered by the common cold, experts said yesterday.

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