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About 43,000 adults and 3,500 children are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia in the United States this year.
*Source: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Leukemia Overview

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood. Although it is the most common childhood cancer, it actually afflicts more adults than children each year. About 43,000 adults and 3,500 children are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia in the United States this year.

WellStar Health System provides superior care for leukemia, offering a comprehensive spectrum of top-notch physicians, treatment options and diagnostic tools. In addition WellStar offers innovative advances in the fight against leukemia, including:

  • Advanced oncologists and hematologists who specialize in leukemia and who practice state-of-the-art care in a collegial atmosphere.
  • The entire spectrum of diagnostic and interventional treatments - including ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), a treatment that allows for the radiation to be tailored to the size and placement of the tumor, while sparing healthy tissue.
  • A Tumor Board, comprised of a multidisciplinary team that meets weekly to review complex cases
  • Clinical trials - making novel therapies available to patients.

Leukemia begins with cells in the bone marrow, the soft tissue deep inside the bone that produces blood cells.

Leukemia cells grow faster than normal marrow cells and eventually crowd out the good cells. This, in turn, causes a reduction or imbalance in the blood cells that fight infection, carry oxygen to different parts of the body, and clot blood. Most people who get the disease are adults, but leukemia is the most common childhood cancer.

Blood is comprised of three different types of cell. Generally, red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, white blood cells combat infection, and platelets form blood clots.

Leukemia is classified two different ways. One way is whether it is acute, or very fast-growing; or chronic, or slow-growing. Acute leukemia is characterized by a rapid build-up of about a trillion nonfunctional marrow cells, which rapidly reduces the production of blood cells. The abnormal In chronic leukemia, the marrow produces blood cells that are almost normal. Usually, it produces too few red blood cells (anemia), but often produces too many white blood cells that are not quite normal, as well as platelets. The abnormal while blood cells become so numerous that they slow blood flow and anemia becomes acute.

The other classification is by the type of marrow cell, and therefore blood cells, affected. One of the types of marrow cells produces lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell critical in fighting infection. If the leukemia originated in these cells, it is called lymphocytic leukemia.

The other type of marrow cells produce red blood cells, platelets, and some other types of white blood cells. Leukemia of these cells is called myeloid leukemia.

Immature, partially differentiated cells are called blast cells. Immature lymphocytes are called lymphoblasts (or "blasts"); myeloblasts mature into the other types of blood cells. Normally, blasts cells do not leave the marrow, but some forms of leukemia produce so many blasts that they overflow into the blood stream.

Combining these two classifications produces the four main types of leukemia:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type in children, and can also affect elderly people.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) usually occurs in adults, and more often in men than in women.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) most often affects adults over 55, very seldom in children, and men about twice as often as women.

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) mostly affects adults, and slightly more men than women. Treatment for both forms of acute leukemia typically begins as soon as possible after diagnosis, while treatment for some types of chronic leukemia can wait.


Symptoms of Leukemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Infections
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath during physical activity
  • Pinhead sized red marks on the skin

Risk Factors

  • Exposure to benzene
  • Exposure to large amounts of radiation
  • Previous cancer treatment
  • Certain genetic disorders, such as Down Syndrome
  • Family history of leukemia
  • Smoking
  • Certain blood disorders
  • Being male
  • Being over age 70 (for chronic leukemia)