Leukemia Links

Leukemia Links

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What is leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells in which the bone marrow produces abnormal 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 platelets.

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: 

  Acute 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 States.

  Acute 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.

  Chronic 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. 2

What are the symptoms of leukemia?

Symptoms of leukemia depend on the amount of abnormal cells present and may include:

                          Fevers and night sweats.

                          Frequent infections.

                          Weakness and fatigue.


                          Bruising of the skin and bleeding from the gums or rectum.

                          Joint pain.

                          Swelling in the abdomen from an enlarged spleen.

                          Swollen 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 tests.

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 cerebrospinal fluid.

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 chemotherapy and radiation treatments.




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