Overview of Leukemia

Cancer Types - Overview of Leukemia

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells--usually the white blood cells. Leukemic cells look different than normal cells and do not function properly.

What are the different types of leukemia?

There are four main types of leukemia, which can be further divided into subtypes. When classifying the type of leukemia, the first steps are to determine if the cancer is:

  1. Lymphocytic or myelogenous leukemia. Cancer can occur in either the lymphoid or myeloid white blood cells:
    • Lymphocytic leukemia. This is when the cancer develops in the lymphocytes (lymphoid cells).
    • Myelogenous leukemia. This is when the cancer develops in the granulocytes or monocytes (myeloid cells).
  2. Acute or chronic leukemia. Leukemia is either acute or chronic:
    • Acute leukemia. The new or immature cancer cells, called blasts, remain very immature and cannot perform their functions. The blasts increase in number rapidly, and the disease progresses quickly.
    • Chronic leukemia. There are some blast cells present, but they are more mature and are able to perform some of their functions. The cells grow more slowly, and the number increases less quickly, so the disease progresses gradually.

Based on these findings, the leukemia is then classified into one of the four main types of leukemias:

There are other types and subtypes of leukemias.

What are the symptoms of leukemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of leukemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

In addition, acute leukemia may cause the following:

Chronic leukemia may affect the skin, central nervous system, digestive tract, kidneys, and testicles.

The symptoms of acute and chronic leukemias may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is leukemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for leukemia may include the following:

Treatment for acute and chronic leukemias

Specific treatment for acute and chronic leukemias will be determined by your doctor based on:

Treatment may include:

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