Langerhans cell histiocytosis is a rare disease that occurs when your child’s body makes too many Langerhans cells. These cells, which you’ll hear called histiocytes, help their bodies fight infections.
The cells, derived from specialized white blood cells, usually are found in your child’s skin, lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and lungs. If your child’s body is making too many Langerhans cells, they can spread through your child’s blood and gather or build up in different parts of their body, damaging their tissue and/or forming tumors.
Many scientists consider Langerhans cell histiocytosis an immune system disorder and not a cancer, but it is similar to some cancers. Originally oncologists, cancer doctors, treated it so treatment is centered in cancer clinics. About 1,200 new cases are reported annually in the United States. This condition usually affects children, but it can strike adults, too.
Yes. From 80 percent to 90 percent of children with Langerhans cell histiocytosis recover. Occasionally, this disease goes away on its own.
Since symptoms are based on where the errant Langerhans cells gather, it can affect very different parts of their bodies. In some cases, the cells may gather in only one area, such as your child’s scalp. In others, they may gather at multiple sites.
Your child’s chances of surviving are greater if the disease is focused in one area of their body, but many children who have this disease in multiple parts of their bodies survive it. It also can recur later in their lives so consistent follow-up with doctors is a necessity.
At Children’s Cancer Center, pediatric oncologists and surgeons work with children with Langerhans cell histiocytosis. Together, with a large group of other doctors, specialists and support personnel, they work to help your child recover.
Others on this team include nurse practitioners, pathologists, radiologists, transfusion medicine specialists, psychologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, medical technologists, counselors, child life specialists, teachers, dietitians and social workers. Some team members you will see regularly. Others you may never meet.
Your child’s care team at Children’s Cancer Center is part of Children’s of Mississippi and the Cancer Institute, both part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. This pediatric team specializes in treating childhood cancers and blood-borne diseases. In fact, this is the only place in the state you can receive some treatments.
Doctors also can offer your child the opportunity to enroll in clinical trials which test new treatments for many conditions. Your doctors will take into consideration your child’s illness, how advanced it is and other conditions they may have in making recommendations for their treatment.
Many of your child’s doctors also teach the state’s next generation of caregivers and do research on new ways to earlier diagnose many childhood diseases and to treat them. They have to know the latest ways to detect, diagnose and treat these illnesses and use that knowledge every day to treat the state’s children.