Leukemia is cancer of the blood. It develops in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is the soft, spongy center of bones that produces the three major blood cells:
- White blood cells to fight infection
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen
- Platelets that help with blood clotting to stop bleeding
When a child has leukemia, the bone marrow, for an unknown reason, begins to make white blood cells that do not mature correctly, but continue to reproduce themselves. Normal, healthy cells only reproduce when there is enough space for them to fit. The body can regulate the production of cells by sending signals for when to stop. With leukemia, these cells do not respond to the signals to stop and reproduce, regardless of space available.
These abnormal cells reproduce very quickly and do not function as healthy white blood cells to help fight infection. When the immature white blood cells, called blasts, begin to crowd out other healthy cells in the bone marrow, the child experiences the symptoms of leukemia (infections, fatigue, fevers, bruising, bone pain).