Friday, September 16, 2022

Different Types of Leukemia

September is blood cancer awareness month so I thought it would be nice to share a few facts throughout the month. 


The term “leukemia” refers to a cancer of the blood cells. There are four major types of leukemia. Because of differences in the characteristics of the different types of leukemia, there are also differences in how they are treated.

In understanding the four major types of leukemia, it is helpful to understand the following terms.

* Acute vs. chronic: when the term “acute” is used, it refers to a type of cancer that – without treatment – may advance quite rapidly, such as within months. In contrast, the term “chronic” refers to a form of cancer that typically progress much more slowly.

* Lymphoblastic vs. myeloid: these terms refer to the type of blood cell that is involved. “Lymphoblastic” or “lymphocytic” refers to a cancer affecting lymphocytes, white blood cells such as the B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes or natural killer cells. 

In contrast, “myeloid” or “myelogenous” refers to a cancer that involves a type of stem cell that has the potential to develop into a red blood cell, non-lymphocytic white blood cells such as granulocytes, or platelets.

In all forms of leukemia, the proliferation of abnormal, non-functional cells in the bone marrow and blood interferes with the production of normal, fully-functional red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. As a result, people with leukemia may develop anemia, have a reduced ability to fight infections, and may experience blood clotting disorders.

Keeping this in mind, the four major types of leukemia are:

1. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – a fast-growing cancer of lymphocytes (white blood cell) that results in the accumulation of immature, malfunctioning cells in the bone marrow and blood.

2. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) – a more slowly-progressing cancer of the lymphocyte cells

3. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – also known as acute myelogenous leukemia or acute non-lymphocytic leukemia, AML is a rapidly-progressing cancer of myeloid stem cells.

4. Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) – a more slowly-progressing cancer of the myeloid stem cells.


Within each type of leukemia, there can be several sub-types depending upon the cancer cells involved, how mature they are, and how different they are from normal cells. Treatment options vary according to the type of leukemia and other factors, such as age and general health. The main treatment options include chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, or targeted therapy using drugs designed to only attach to specific antibodies or proteins on cancer cells. In special circumstances, other treatments may be used, such as surgery, radiation therapy, leukapheresis (removing white blood cells from the blood), or treatment with monoclonal antibodies. Advances in understanding the genetics of leukemia and how they influence the progress of the disease and response to treatment is opening new doors in individualizing treatment.

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