What Is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow. Bone marrow produces blood cells. Leukemia can develop due to a problem with blood cell production. It usually affects the leukocytes, or white blood cells.


  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Fever or chills
  • Seizures
  • Pain in your bones or joints

Leukemia Causes and Risk Factors

No one knows exactly what causes leukemia. People who have it have certain unusual chromosomes, but the chromosomes don’t cause leukemia.

You can’t prevent leukemia, but certain things may trigger it. You might have a higher risk if you:

  • Smoke
  • Are exposed to a lot of radiation or certain chemicals
  • Had radiation therapy or chemotherapy to treat cancer
  • Have a family history of leukemia
  • Have a genetic disorder like Down syndrome

Leukemia classification based on how fast it develops:

Acute leukemia happens when most of the abnormal blood cells don’t mature and can’t carry out normal functions. It can get bad very fast.

Chronic leukemia happens when there are some immature cells, but others are normal and can work the way they should. It gets bad more slowly than acute forms do.

Leukemia classification based on type of cell:

Lymphocytic (or lymphoblastic) leukemia involves bone marrow cells that become lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell.

Myelogenous (or myeloid) leukemia involves the marrow cells that create red blood cells, platelets, and other kinds of white blood cells.

Types of leukemia

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
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