What is leukemia?

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Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood and it causes an increase in number of certain types of white blood cells1.

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The different forms of leukemia are classified depending on which type of white blood cell numbers have increased and according to the disease's rate of progression. The four major types of leukemia are chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Each type of leukemia has its own characteristics and treatment.

Leukemia is called “lymphocytic” (or “lymphoblastic”) if the cancerous change takes place in a type of marrow cell that forms lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).

Leukemia is called “myelogenous” (or “myeloid”) if the cell change takes place in a type of marrow cell that would normally go on to form red blood cells, some kinds of white blood cells and platelets. 

Acute leukemia is a disease that progress more quickly and affects unformed cells or cells that are not yet fully developed. These immature cells cannot carry out their normal functions. Acute leukemia grows quickly and is an aggressive form of disease 

Chronic leukemia is a slow-growing blood cancer that permits the growth of greater numbers of more developed cells. In general, these more mature cells can carry out some of their normal functions. Chronic leukemia develops slowly, so it may be a long time before people need treatment

The four main types of leukemia are further classified into subtypes that are based on specific features of cells. Knowing the subtype of the patient’s disease may help the doctor to assess how quickly the disease may progress. The subtype is important because the treatment approach may vary per the disease subtype.

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