Leukemia, Understanding the Most Common Childhood Cancer

Understanding Leukemia

The Most Common Childhood Cancer

HTS Girl with BearDid you know Childhood Leukemia is the most common of Childhood Cancers and teens, accounting for almost 1 out of 3 cancers? According to the American Cancer Society, about three out of four leukemias among children and teens is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

Types of Acute Leukemias

The two main types of childhood leukemia are the acute forms of leukemia, which require immediate and aggressive treatment. The focus of this blog will be on acute leukemias, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). 

Lymphoid stem cells

Myeloid stem cell

Childhood Leukemia cancer starts in the blood cells, most often in white blood cells. ALL starts in early white blood cells called lymphocytes. The other type of acute leukemia is Acute Myeloid Leukemia, also known as Acute Myelogenous or Myelocytic Leukemia starts in the myeloid cells, which develop into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes), red blood cells, or platelets.

B and T White Blood Cells

There are two important types of white blood cells, B cells and T cells also described as  B Lymphocytes and T Lymphocytes. These cells help the body fight infection. The B Lymphocytes make antibodies to fight infection. These memory cells remember what to do when the foreign invader shows up, and they go on the attack to eliminate the foreign invaders before they get out of hand.

types of white blood cells

T Lymphocytes remember and help B cells fight infection by making antibodies. T cells learn when they are naive which foreign agents to fight off. T cells also target very specific foreign invaders. The acquired T cells with “invader fighting memories” are only called upon when there is an attack by a particular invader. The T cells recognize the invader by unique proteins on their surface. When an invader (cell) moves in with an antigen (toxin or foreign substance that induces an immune response) that matches the protein on the T cell, it begins the cytokine release (soldiers) to attack and destroy the foreign cell invaders (https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-T-Cells.aspx).


Immunotherapy vs Chemotherapy

There have been many advances in cancer treatment. Immunotherapy has proven to be much less toxic and very effective for treating many types of cancer. Leukemia is no exception. CAR T-cell therapy is a novel way of treating several cancers, including Leukemia. The process for  T-cell therapy involves the removal of a patient’s T cells via aphaeresis (separating blood plasma from white cells), whose proteins are then modified and returned to the blood. These modified T cells are called CAR T-cells, and they now recognize specific surface antigens of cancerous cells they need to attack (https://www.lls.org/treatment/types-treatment/immunotherapy/chimeric-antigen-receptor-car-t-cell-therapy).

One promising treatment option for ALL is a new immunotherapy treatment called Kymriah. KYMRIAH is not a pill, chemotherapy, or transplant. KYMRIAH is a type of cutting edge immunotherapy that uses the power of your own immune system to treat your cancer. A natural defender, the T cell is a part of your immune system. T cells detect and destroy infected or cancerous cells by looking for certain antigens. Antigens are markers on cells that help your immune system identify normal cells from infected or cancerous cells; however, your cancerous B cells look like normal B cells, so T cells don’t always recognize them.

After KYMRIAH, your T cells will be able to recognize an antigen on your B cells called CD19. By reprogramming your T cells into CAR-T cells, KYMRIAH enhances their ability to detect and destroy your B cells, including those with cancer in them. Because KYMRIAH uses your own T cells, you may hear it referred to as an “individualized” therapy made just for you. Kymriah has been approved for patients up to 25 years of age for treating ALL that is refractory or in second or later relapse, meaning it is not responding to traditional treatment or the cancer has returned.

Here to Serve

While much progress is being made in the fight against Childhood Leukemia and survival rates have increased, many more new options on the horizon. Clinical Trials are an invaluable way to keep the process moving forward. Here to Serve can help guide you if a clinical trial is your best option, including providing resources to help you travel and relocate for a trial.

No doubt about it, navigating the complex journey through medical treatments, insurance, and day-to-day routines is daunting. Even daily activities, which were once routine, are challenging, such as cleaning, laundry, and meal preparation. Coupled with the tremendous expense, it is no wonder the stress level among families going through this challenge is enormous. Here to Serve helps connect you to a community of caring people and resources to help. If you have a child diagnosed with Leukemia or other childhood cancer, please reach out so we can help. Or if you know of someone going through this difficult journey, please tell them about Here to Serve. If you wish to donate financial resources, Here to Serve will make sure they get to families most in need.

By Amanda Enciso