Kids Living with Leukemia

October 26, 2009 Leukemia is the most common cancer in kids. About one in 1,000 children will be diagnosed with leukemia by age 19. Today, more children than ever before are winning the battle against the disease.

Three years ago, the Vento family's world was turned upside down.

"We went to the doctor, and she told us it was nothing. It would go away, but it didn't," John Vento told Ivanhoe.

His daughter, Giana, was battling acute lymphocytic leukemia or ALL.

"Cancer made me feel sick," Giana told Ivanhoe. "My stomach was hurting."

Doctors removed a tumor the size of an egg from her neck. Today, Giana is in remission. Thanks to treatment advancements, survival rates for leukemia are higher than ever.

"In the early 60s, it would have been a 10 or 20 percent cure rate, and now, it's 80 to 85 percent so tremendous cure rates, and we get about one percent better each year," Ron Kline, M.D., a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas, told Ivanhoe.

In the 70s and 80s, most kids with ALL received radiation to their heads.

"Those kids lost about 10 IQ points," Dr. Kline said. "They had more learning disabilities."

Today, doctors try to avoid radiation, giving chemotherapy in the spinal fluid instead. But after treatment, the battle isn't always over. Leukemia survivors are almost four-times more likely to have a life-threatening medical condition and almost three-times more likely to suffer chronic conditions compared to their siblings.

Survivors also need to watch out for recurrence.

"Different leukemias are different, but they tend to be relatively rapidly growing tumors, so if it hasn't come back in the first two years, it's probably not going to come back," Dr. Kline said.

Giana sees her doctor every month for checkups.

"In the beginning, she was petrified of everything, and now, she's not," Giana's mom, Nikki Vento, told Ivanhoe.

Giana is a brave little girl who won't slow down for anything.

Another concern about treatment side effects is a child's fertility. Adolescent boys can have their sperm stored for future use. Girls can have their eggs harvested and frozen, but they have to undergo surgery, which may delay their cancer treatment.

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