Cancer Center

Leukemia

blood cancer
Definition

There are four types of leukemia. Two types, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), are categorized as acute because they spread quickly. With these types of leukemia, cancerous cells replace normal white blood cells that fight infection, red blood cells that carry oxygen to the body, and platelets that help blood clot.

The other two types, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), are classified as chronic, meaning they develop and progress gradually. When cancerous cells replace healthy cells, the body is susceptible to other adverse health effects such as infection, bleeding and anemia.

In any form of leukemia, cancerous cells replacing the healthy blood cells increase the body’s susceptibility to infection.

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Symptoms

The causes of leukemia are unknown, however it affects both sexes and all ages. People who may be at particular risk are smokers and those who have a family history of leukemia, a genetic disorder or who have been excessively exposed to radiation or toxic chemicals.

Symptoms of adult acute leukemia include:

  • Infections
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Anemia
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Appearance of spots on the skin
  • Joint pain

In the case of adult chronic leukemia, middle-age or older adults are most likely to be affected. Chronic leukemia might not yield symptoms especially in its early stages because the abnormal cells are still functional. As the disease progresses, it may cause:

  • Infections
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes

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Treatment

A doctor will perform a physical examination, review symptoms with the patient and perform testing for leukemia that can include:

If initial testing indicates the presence of adult leukemia, treatment may include:

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