Leukemia is cancer of white blood cells or cells that become white blood cells. Leukemia prevents white blood cells from fighting infections in your body and interferes with the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells and platelets.
Leukemia is divided into four types based on the kind of white blood cell it effects and whether it grows quickly or slowly. Fast-growing types of leukemia are called “acute,” while slow-growing types of leukemia are called “chronic.”
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) starts with white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow. People with ALL make too many lymphocytes that crowd out healthy white blood cells. It can advance quickly if it’s not treated.
ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer, and most likely to occur in children ages 3 to 5. Children who have a brother or sister with ALL, who were treated with chemotherapy or radiation for another type of cancer in the past, or who have Down syndrome or another genetic disorder are at higher risk for ALL.
In adults, ALL is more likely to occur after the age of 50. It’s more common in whites than in African Americans and slightly more common in men than in women. Previous chemotherapy or radiation treatment for another type of cancer, exposure to certain chemicals, or the presence Down syndrome or other genetic disorders increase the risk for ALL.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing cancer that lowers the number of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in the body. It mainly affects people over the age of 65 and is more common in men than women.
Like ALL, previous treatment with chemotherapy or radiation for cancer, exposure to certain toxic chemicals and having Down syndrome or other genetic disorders increases an individual’s risk for AML.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common type of leukemia in adults and mainly affects people in their 70s or older. Like ALL, it starts with lymphocytes in bone marrow but grows more slowly. Many people with CLL don’t show any symptoms until years after the cancer starts.
A family history of blood cancer or prolonged exposure to chemicals like weedkillers or insecticides can increase the risk of developing CLL.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) starts in the same cells as AML but grows slowly. CML is slightly more common in women than in men, and more likely to occur in adults than in children. Exposure to high amounts of radiation is the greatest risk factor for developing CML.
Leukemia symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia and are often vague and not specific. They can be overlooked because they may resemble symptoms of the flu and other common illnesses. Early signs and symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or sever infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
Be sure to check with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.Back to blog