Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow that starts in the tissue that produces blood cells. Most blood cells develop from cells in the bone marrow called stem cells. Bone marrow is the soft material in the center of most bones.

When you are healthy, your bone marrow makes:

  • White blood cells, which help your body fight infection
  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of your body
  • Platelets, which help your blood clot

When you have leukemia, your bone marrow makes a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. These abnormal cells don’t do the work of normal white blood cells, they grow faster than normal cells, and they don’t stop growing when they should.

Over time, leukemia cells can crowd out normal blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infections. Leukemia cells can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and cause swelling, pain, or death.

There are four common types of adult leukemia. Two are chronic (chronic lymphocytic leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia), meaning they get worse over a longer period of time. And two are acute (acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphocytic leukemia), meaning they get worse quickly.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, and acute myeloid leukemia are diagnosed more often in older adults. Of these, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is found more often in children.

Learn more: What is the difference between leukemia and lymphoma? Though there are some similarities between the two types of cancer, their causes and origins, symptoms, treatment, and survival rate are different. This article takes a comprehensive look at the similarities and differences between leukemia and lymphoma.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms for each type of leukemia differ but may include:

  • Fever or night sweats
  • Frequent infections
  • Fatigue (weak or tired)
  • Headaches
  • Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Bleeding and bruising easily (from gums, purplish patches in the skin, or tiny red spots under the skin)
  • Pain in the bones or joints

If you experience any of these problems, you should contact your doctor.


There are many treatment options for leukemia. Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you.

The options are watchful waiting, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, and blood and marrow stem cell transplant. If your spleen is enlarged, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove it.

People with acute leukemia need to be treated right away, and many can be cured. The goal is to make symptoms go away, which is called a remission. After going into remission, more therapy may be given to prevent a relapse.

If you have chronic leukemia without symptoms, you may not need treatment right away. When treatment for chronic leukemia is needed, it can often control the disease and its symptoms, but it is seldom cured. You may receive maintenance therapy to help keep the cancer in remission. Stem cell transplants offer some patients with chronic leukemia the chance for cure.