by Amy Scholten, MPH
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. Three main types of blood cells are:
White blood cells are most often involved in leukemia.
The most common types of leukemia are:
Leukemia starts in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. It happens when certain blood cells divide without control or order. The abnormal cells crowd out the healthy blood cells. This causes many of the symptoms.
The cause of leukemia is not clear. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.
AML and CML are most common in adults over 60 years. ALL is most common in children.
Other things that may raise the risk of leukemia are:
Symptoms of leukemia may be:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will check for swelling of the liver, spleen, or lymph nodes in the armpits, groin, and neck.
Tests may include:
If cancer cells are found, other tests may be done. These tests check if the cancer has spread. They may include:
The goal for acute leukemia is to destroy cancer cells and return blood and bone marrow to normal. Chronic leukemia is rarely curable. Treatment focuses on slowing the disease.
A number of treatments may be used. It depends on the person's age, health, and the type and stage of the disease. Options may include:
The risk of leukemia may be reduced by:
American Cancer Society
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Provincial Health Services Authority
Acute myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-myeloid-leukemia-aml. Accessed March 24, 2021.
Van Maele-Fabry G, Gamet-Payrastre L, et al. Household exposure to pesticides and risk of leukemia in children and adolescents: updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2019;222(1):49-67.
Leukemia. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemia.html. Accessed March 24, 2021.
Leukemia. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at:
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Accessed March 24, 2021.
Leukemia. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia. Accessed March 24, 2021.
A PET scan may improve leukemia care. UW Health website. Available at: https://www.uwhealth.org/news/a-pet-scan-may-improve-leukemia-care/14001. Accessed March 24, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/24/2021
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