Leukemia is cancer that starts in the tissue that forms blood. In a person with leukemia, the bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells. The abnormal cells are leukemia cells. Unlike normal blood cells, leukemia cells don't die when they should. They may crowd out normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This makes it hard for normal blood cells to do their normal work.
Leukemia is cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.
The types of leukemia also can be grouped based on the type of white blood cell that is affected. Leukemia can start in lymphoid cells or myeloid cells. Leukemia that affects lymphoid cells is called lymphoid, lymphocytic, or lymphoblastic leukemia. Leukemia that affects myeloid cells is called myeloid, myelogenous, or myeloblastic leukemia.
There are four common types of leukemia:
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): CLL affects lymphoid cells and usually grows slowly. It accounts for more than 15,000 new cases of leukemia each year. Most often, people diagnosed with the disease are over age 55. It almost never affects children.
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML): CML affects myeloid cells and usually grows slowly at first. It accounts for nearly 5,000 new cases of leukemia each year. It mainly affects adults.
Acute lymphocytic (lymphoblastic) leukemia (ALL): ALL affects lymphoid cells and grows quickly. It accounts for more than 5,000 new cases of leukemia each year. ALL is the most common type of leukemia in young children. It also affects adults.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): AML affects myeloid cells and grows quickly. It accounts for more than 13,000 new cases of leukemia each year. It occurs in both adults and children.
Hairy cell leukemia is a rare type of chronic leukemia. This web page does not include information about hairy cell leukemia or other rare types of leukemia. The Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER) can provide information about rare types of leukemia.
Staging for Leukemia:
The following stages are used for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL):
Stage 0: In stage 0 chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood, but there are no other symptoms of leukemia. Stage 0 chronic lymphocytic leukemia is indolent (slow-growing).
Stage I: In stage I chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood and the lymph nodes are larger than normal.
Stage II: In stage II chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood, the liver or spleen is larger than normal, and the lymph nodes may be larger than normal.
Stage III: In stage III chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood and there are too few red blood cells. The lymph nodes, liver, or spleen may be larger than normal.
Stage IV: In stage IV chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood and too few platelets. The lymph nodes, liver, or spleen may be larger than normal and there may be too few red blood cells.
Staging for Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML):
Chronic myeloid leukemia is a disease of the bone marrow. It isn't staged like most cancers. The outlook for someone with CML depends on other information, such as the phase of the disease, as well as factors like the age of the patient, blood counts, and if the spleen is enlarged.
There is no standard staging system for adult Acute lymphocytic (lymphoblastic) leukemia (ALL)
There is no standard staging system for adult Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
Treatment of Leukemia:
People with leukemia have many treatment options. The options are watchful waiting, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplant. If the spleen is enlarged, the doctor may suggest surgery to remove it. Sometimes a combination of these treatments is used.
The choice of treatment depends mainly on the following:
The type of leukemia (acute or chronic)
Whether leukemia cells were found in your cerebrospinal fluid
It also may depend on certain features of the leukemia cells. Doctors also consider symptoms and general health when deciding on treatment.
People with acute leukemia need to be treated right away. The goal of treatment is to destroy signs of leukemia in the body and make symptoms go away. This is called a remission. After people go into remission, more therapy may be given to prevent a relapse. This type of therapy is called consolidation therapy or maintenance therapy. Many people with acute leukemia can be cured.
If you have chronic leukemia without symptoms, you may not need cancer treatment right away. Your doctor will watch your health closely so that treatment can start when you begin to have symptoms. Not getting cancer treatment right away is called watchful waiting.
When treatment for chronic leukemia is needed, it can often control the disease and its symptoms. People may receive maintenance therapy to help keep the cancer in remission, but chronic leukemia can seldom be cured with chemotherapy. However, stem cell transplants offer some people with chronic leukemia the chance for cure.
Your doctor can describe your treatment choices, the expected results, and the possible side effects. You and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs. You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods.
Search for clinical trials in Georgia.
Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia. (Accessed July 2016)