What is leukemia?
Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells in which the bone marrow
white blood cells (leukemic cells). The leukemic
cells do not function normally and, over time, crowd out the
normal white blood cells,
red blood cells, and
Are there different types of leukemia?
There are four main types of leukemia. They are grouped
according to how quickly the disease progresses and which white
blood cells are affected. Acute leukemia progresses rapidly.
Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly. There may be an
increased number of the white cells that play an important part
in the immune system (lymphocytes) or an increased number of the
white cells that normally help the body fight infection (myelocytes).
The four main types of leukemia are:
lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). ALL is the most common
type of leukemia in children but may also affect adults.
Approximately 3,800 new cases occur each year in the United
myelogenous leukemia (AML). AML is the most common
type of leukemia and occurs in both children and adults, with
approximately 10,600 new cases each year in the U.S.
lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). CLL mostly affects people
older than 55 years of age and almost never affects children.
There are approximately 7,000 new cases each year in the U.S.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). CML occurs mostly
in adults and accounts for approximately 4,400 new cases each
year in the U.S.
What causes leukemia?
The exact cause of most types of leukemia is not known. Often
people who have leukemia do not have any known risk factors.
AML is an acquired rather than inherited disease. It may be
caused by high doses of radiation or exposure to the chemical
benzene, smoking and other tobacco use, and
chemotherapy used to treat other types of cancer.
What are the symptoms of leukemia?
Symptoms of leukemia depend on the amount of abnormal cells
present and may include:
Fevers and night sweats.
Weakness and fatigue.
Bruising of the skin and bleeding from the gums or rectum.
Swelling in the abdomen from an enlarged
lymph nodes in the armpit, neck, or groin.
Decreased appetite and weight loss.
How is leukemia diagnosed?
If you have symptoms that suggest leukemia, your health
professional will ask questions about your personal and family
medical history, do a physical examination, and order blood
If your blood tests are abnormal, a test of the cells inside
your bone marrow (bone marrow aspiration and biopsy) is needed
to confirm a diagnosis of leukemia. Your health professional may
also order a
spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to determine whether
leukemic cells are present in your brain or
How is leukemia treated?
Treatment for leukemia depends on the severity of the disease
and the exact type of leukemia present. Treatment can range from
watchful waiting to a
bone marrow transplant; usually it includes