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Specific Cancer Discussions => Leukemia => Topic started by: Tony on September 30, 2012, 10:18:01 AM

Title: What is leukemia?
Post by: Tony on September 30, 2012, 10:18:01 AM
What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer that starts in the stem cells of the bone marrow that make blood cells. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy material that fills the centre of most bones (where blood cells are made). Blood stem cells (immature blood cells) develop into either myeloid stem cells or lymphoid stem cells.

Myeloid stem cells develop into one of three types of mature blood cells:

Lymphoid stem cells develop into lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are another type of white blood cell that is usually found in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, such as the spleen and the blood. Lymphocytes make antibodies to help fight infection.

Leukemia develops when the blood stem cells in the bone marrow make abnormal blood cells. These abnormal cells are called leukemia cells. Over time, the leukemia cells crowd out normal blood cells. This makes it hard for the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets to do their jobs.

Types of leukemia

There are several different types of leukemia. The types of leukemia are first divided according to the type of stem cell they developed from:

The types of leukemia are further grouped according to how quickly the leukemia develops and grows:

Acute leukemias start suddenly, developing within days or weeks. The number of leukemia cells in the blood can rise very fast and the blood cannot do its job. Acute leukemias get worse quickly and need to be treated right away.

Chronic leukemias develop slowly over months or years, and may not cause any symptoms early in the disease. Symptoms start to appear as the number of leukemia cells in the blood or bone marrow increases.

There are four main types of leukemia:


Because each type of leukemia develops and grows differently, each type is treated differently. It is important for your doctor to find out which type of leukemia you have so you can get the treatment that works best for that type.

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