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Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of the bones, where blood cells are produced.

The term leukemia means white blood. White blood cells (leukocytes) are used by the body to fight infections and other foreign substances. Leukocytes are made in the bone marrow.

Leukemia leads to an uncontrolled increase in the number of white blood cells.

The cancerous cells prevent healthy red cells, platelets, and mature white cells (leukocytes) from being made. Life-threatening symptoms can then develop as normal blood cells decline.

The cancer cells can spread to the bloodstream and lymph nodes. They can also travel to the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) and other parts of the body.

Leukemia can affect children and adults.

Leukemias are divided into two major types:

  • Acute (which progresses quickly)
  • Chronic (which progresses more slowly)

The main types of leukemia are:

Text only

Review Date: 2/6/2020

Reviewed By

Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

References

Appelbaum FR. Acute leukemias in adults. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 95.

Hunger SP, Teachey DT, Grupp S, Aplenc R. Childhood leukemia. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 93.

Disclaimer

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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Bone marrow aspiration - Illustration Thumbnail

Bone marrow aspiration

A small amount of bone marrow is removed during a bone marrow aspiration. The procedure is uncomfortable, but can be tolerated by both children and adults. The marrow can be studied to determine the cause of anemia, the presence of leukemia or other malignancy, or the presence of some storage diseases, in which abnormal metabolic products are stored in certain bone marrow cells.

Illustration

Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph - Illustration Thumbnail

Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

This picture shows the darkly-stained lymph cells (lymphoblasts) seen in acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood leukemia.

Illustration

Auer rods - Illustration Thumbnail

Auer rods

Note multiple Auer rods which are found only in acute myeloid leukemias, either myeloblastic or monoblastic. These rods consist of clumps of azurophilic granule material.

Illustration

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

This is a microscopic view of bone marrow from a person with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It shows predominantly small, mature lymphocytes.

Illustration

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

This high-power microscopic view of a blood smear from a person with classical CML shows predominantly normal-appearing cells with intermediate maturity.

Illustration

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic myelocytic leukemia

Oil immersion field demonstrating myeloid cells of all degrees of maturity.

Illustration

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic myelocytic leukemia

Low power view showing marked hypercellularity with a broad-spectrum of myeloid and erythroid cell types and marked myeloid hyperplasia.

Illustration

Bone marrow aspiration - Illustration Thumbnail

Bone marrow aspiration

A small amount of bone marrow is removed during a bone marrow aspiration. The procedure is uncomfortable, but can be tolerated by both children and adults. The marrow can be studied to determine the cause of anemia, the presence of leukemia or other malignancy, or the presence of some storage diseases, in which abnormal metabolic products are stored in certain bone marrow cells.

Illustration

Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph - Illustration Thumbnail

Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

This picture shows the darkly-stained lymph cells (lymphoblasts) seen in acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood leukemia.

Illustration

Auer rods - Illustration Thumbnail

Auer rods

Note multiple Auer rods which are found only in acute myeloid leukemias, either myeloblastic or monoblastic. These rods consist of clumps of azurophilic granule material.

Illustration

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

This is a microscopic view of bone marrow from a person with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It shows predominantly small, mature lymphocytes.

Illustration

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

This high-power microscopic view of a blood smear from a person with classical CML shows predominantly normal-appearing cells with intermediate maturity.

Illustration

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic myelocytic leukemia

Oil immersion field demonstrating myeloid cells of all degrees of maturity.

Illustration

Chronic myelocytic leukemia - Illustration Thumbnail

Chronic myelocytic leukemia

Low power view showing marked hypercellularity with a broad-spectrum of myeloid and erythroid cell types and marked myeloid hyperplasia.

Illustration

 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 
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