Leukemia (2023)

Continuing Education Activity

Leukemia is a heterogeneous group of hematologic malignancies that arise from the dysfunctional proliferation of developing leukocytes. It is classified as either acute or chronic based on the rapidity of proliferation and as myelocytic or lymphocytic based on the cell of origin. Treatment depends on the type of leukemia but generally involves chemotherapy. Multiple genetic and environmental risk factors are identified in the development of leukemia. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, there are 61,090 estimated new cases of leukemia in 2021, accounting for 3.2% of all new cancer cases, making leukemia the 10th most common cancer in the United States. This activity describes the evaluation and management of leukemia and reviews the role of the interprofessional team in improving care for patients with this condition.


  • Identify the epidemiology of leukemia.

  • Review the appropriate evaluation of leukemia.

  • Outline the management options available for leukemia.

  • Describe interprofessional team strategies for improving care coordination and communication when treating patients with leukemia.

Access free multiple choice questions on this topic.


The production of abnormal leukocytes defines leukemia as either a primary or secondary process. They can be classified as acute or chronic based on the rapidity of proliferation and myeloid or lymphoid based on the cell of origin.Predominant subtypes are acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), involving the myeloid lineage; acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL); and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), involving the lymphoid chain. Other less common variants, such as mature B-cell and T-cell leukemias, and NK cell-related leukemias, to name a few, arise from mature white blood cells. However, with the advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and the identification of various biomarkers, the World Health Organization (WHO) classification was updated in 2016, bringing multiple changes to the traditional classification for acute leukemias and myeloid neoplasms.[1]GLOBOCAN, a global observatory for cancer trends, showed a global incidence of 474,519 cases, with 67,784 in North America. The Age-Standardized Rates are around 11 per 100,000, with a mortality rate of approximately 3.2.[2]

Many genetic risk factors have been identified, such as Klinefelter and Down syndromes, ataxia telangiectasia, Bloom syndrome, and telomeropathies such as Fanconi anemia, dyskeratosis congenita, and Shwachman-Diamond syndrome; germline mutations in RUNX1, CEBPA, to name a few. Viral infections associated with Epstein Barr virus, human T-lymphotropic virus, ionizing radiation exposure, radiation therapy, environmental exposure with benzene, smoking history, history of chemotherapy with alkylating agents, and topoisomerase II agents have also been implicated in the development of acute leukemias. Symptoms are nonspecific and can include fever, fatigue, weight loss, bone pain, bruising, or bleeding. Definitive diagnoses often require bone marrow biopsy, the results of which help the hematologists and stem cell transplant physicians regarding the selection of treatment options ranging from chemotherapy to allogeneic stem cell transplantation. The prognosis is variable depending on the leukemia subtype in question.

Acute vs. chronic myeloid leukemia:Blasts,which areimmature anddysfunctional cells, normally make up 1% to 5% of marrow cells. Acute leukemias are characterized by greater than 20% blasts in the peripheral blood smear or on bone marrow leading toa more rapid onset of symptoms. In contrast, chronic leukemia has less than 20% blasts witha relatively chronic onset of symptoms. The accelerated/blast phase is a transformation of chronic myeloid leukemia into an acute phase with a significantly higher degree of blasts.[1][3][4]

As such, the four major subtypes of leukemia are:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL):ALL is seen in patients with the blastic transformation of B and T cells. It is the most common leukemia in the pediatric population, accounting for up to 80% of cases in this group vs. 20% of cases in adults. Treatment among adolescents and young adults is predominantly inspired by pediatric regimens with better survival rates.

  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML):AML is characterized by greater than 20% myeloid blasts and is the most common acute leukemia in adults. It is the most aggressive cancer with a variable prognosis depending upon the molecular subtypes.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL):CLL occursfrom the proliferation of monoclonal lymphoidcells. Most cases occur in people between the ages of 60 and 70. CLL is considered an indolent disease, for the most part, meaning not all patients with a diagnosis will need to start treatment until symptomatic from the disease.

  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML):CML typically arises from reciprocal translocation and fusion of BCR on chromosome 22 and ABL1on chromosome 9, resulting in dysregulated tyrosine kinase on chromosome 22 called the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome.This, in turn, causes a monoclonal population of dysfunctional granulocytes, predominantly neutrophils, basophils, and eosinophils.[1][3][5][6]


Multiple genetic and environmental risk factors are identified in the development of leukemia.

  • Exposure to ionizing radiation is associated with an increased risk of multiple leukemia subtypes.[7][8]

  • Exposure to benzene is a risk factor for leukemia in adults, particularly AML.[9]

  • Previous exposure to chemotherapy, especially alkylating agents and topoisomerase II inhibitors, increases the risk for acute leukemia later in life.[7][8]

  • A history of any hematologic malignancy is a risk factor for subsequently developing another subtype of leukemia.[10]

  • Viral infections (e.g., human T-cell leukemia virus, Epstein Barr virus) are linked with subtypes of ALL.[11]

  • Several genetic syndromes (e.g., Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Bloom syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome) are associated with an increased risk of AML and ALL.[12]


GLOBOCAN, which is a global observatory for cancer trends, showed a global incidence of 474,519 cases, with 67,784 in North America. The age-standardized rates are around 11 per 100,000, with a mortality rate of about 3.2. ALL and AML, which are important diseases in both childhood and adulthood, have bimodal age distributions, with CML and CLL mostly in the older age groups. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, there are61,090 estimated new casesof leukemia in 2021, accounting for 3.2% of all new cancer cases, making leukemia the 10th most common cancer in the United States. Estimated deaths are about23,660, which comprises 3.9% of all cancer deaths.Since 2006, the incidence ofthe disease has increased by an average of 0.6% per year,whilethe mortality has decreased by an annual average of 1.5%.[6][7]


Leukemia occurs due to the malignanttransformation of pluripotent (i.e., it can give rise to both myeloid and lymphoid precursors) hematopoietic stem cells. Rarely, it can also involve a more committed stem cell with limited self-renewal capacity. In acute leukemias, these malignant cells are generally immature, poorly differentiated, abnormal leukocytes (blasts) that can either be lymphoblasts or myeloblasts. These blasts can undergo clonal expansion and proliferation, leading to replacement and interference with the development and function of normal blood cells, leading to clinical symptoms.

Acute Leukemia

In ALL, chromosomal translocation or abnormal chromosome numbers can lead to mutations in precursor lymphoid cells leading to lymphoblasts. Common mutations include t(12;21) and t(9;22). In AML, chromosomal translocations, rearrangements, and gain or loss of chromosomes can lead to mutations and abnormal production of myeloblasts. One important translocation is t(15;17), which leads to the fusion of retinoic acid receptor alpha (RARA) and a promyelocytic leukemia transcription factor (PML). This leads to the development of acute promyelocytic leukemia, which can present with hallmarks of disseminated intravascular coagulationand need emergent treatment with all-trans retinoic acid.

Chronic Leukemia

Chromosomal abnormalities in hematopoietic stem cells that are precursors to leucocytes are the most common cause of chronic leukemia. Examples of abnormalities are deletions, translocations, or extra chromosomes. In CML, mutations mainly affect granulocytes (most commonly the t(9;22) translocation), and in CLL, they primarily affect lymphocytes (especially B lymphocytes). Unlike acute leukemias, in chronic leukemias, cells are partially mature. These partially mature cells do not function effectively and divide too quickly. They accumulate in the peripheral blood and lymphoid organs, which can lead to anemia and thrombocytopenia, and leukopenia.


Acute Leukemia

In acute leukemia, the peripheral blood or bone marrow is characterized bymore than 20% blasts. However, regardless of the blast percentage, patients with t(8;21)(q22;q22), RUNX1-RUNX1T1, inv(16)(p13.1q22) or t(16;16)(p13.1;q22), CBFB-MYH11 or t(15;17)(q24.1;q21.1), PML-RARA, are considered and treated as acute leukemia. There is usually increased cellularity noted on bone marrow biopsy that is packed with blasts and a variablenumber of granulocytic or monocytic cellsand erythroid precursors. Traditional markers included in the evaluation are CD7, CD11b, CD13, CD14, CD15, CD16, CD33, CD34, CD45, CD56, CD117, HLA-DR. Also, either peripheral smear or bone marrow aspirate is sent for a mutation panel of multiple genes withtherapeutic and prognostic implications, such asASXL1, CEBPA, DNMT3A, FLT3, IDH1, IDH2, NPM1, RUNX1, andTP53, to mention a few.

There is also increased bone marrow cellularity in ALL, composed of B and T lymphoblasts (with small nucleoli,dispersedchromatin, cleaved and irregular nuclei with undetectable cytoplasm). Common T-cell lymphoid immunostains include TdT,CD2, CD3, CD5, and CD7. Common B-cell lymphoid immunostains include HLA-DR, CD10, CD19, CD22, CD79a, PAX5, and CD20. There should not be any myeloid markers, such as myeloperoxidase (MPO), to confirm the diagnosis of the pure lymphoid lineage. Mixed phenotype acute leukemia (MPAL) hasboth myeloid and lymphoid markersbut is a rare entity. Cytogenetics evaluationfor Ph chromosome status and Ph-like translocation is a must as newer therapeutic agents are now incorporated into treatment algorithms.[13]

Chronic Leukemia

The white blood cell count in chronic leukemia is often elevated, with a smear suggestive ofsignificant left shift/granulocyte predominance. Such a picture is commonly seen during the acute illness phase, but if such a picture persists upon repeat labs, CML should be evaluated.In CML, the translocation t(9;22) can be diagnosed by fluorescence in-situ hybridization (FISH) on peripheral blood. Bone marrow biopsy is not necessary for diagnosis, but if done, it will usually show 100% cellular marrow with increased granulocyte precursors, basophils, eosinophils, andoccasionalmonocytes.

In CLL, the white cell count is elevated, with mostly CD5+ and CD23+ B-lymphocytes. The clonal lymphocyte population has to be greater than 5,000/mcL for diagnosis. If the clonal lymphocyte population is less than 5,000/mcL, theentity is termedmonoclonal B cell lymphocytosis of undetermined significance. Flow cytometry is often diagnostic. Patients would need evaluation for del(17p) andTP53mutation status, immunoglobulin heavy chain variable region (IGHV) gene mutation status, del(11q), del(13q), and trisomy 12 evaluation, which can help in selecting appropriate treatment regimens.[14]

History and Physical

Acute Leukemia

Acute leukemia tends to present non-specifically, although the most common presenting features include fever, lethargy, and bleeding. Hepatosplenomegaly, lymphadenopathy, and musculoskeletal symptoms (especially involving the spine and long bones) can also be clues to the diagnosis. Adults may also have more prominent anemia-related symptoms, such as shortness of breath, or symptoms related to thrombocytopenia, such as excessive bruising or increased bleeding tendency. Patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), which is associated with disseminated intravascular coagulation-type symptoms, can present with mucosal bleeding, including gum bleeds, nosebleeds, or menorrhagia.

Chronic Leukemia

Chronic leukemia subtypes occur almost exclusively in adults. Many patients are asymptomatic at the time of diagnosis, identified only incidentally after marked leukocytosis is discovered on a complete blood count (CBC) performed for another reason. Hepatosplenomegaly and lymphadenopathy can be appreciated in some cases, while bleeding and bruising are less common, presenting features relative to acute leukemia subtypes.[15]


The workup of leukemia is very involved, and multiple tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis and, subsequently, to stage the disease. Helpful initial studies include a CBC,comprehensivemetabolic panel, liver function tests (LFT), and coagulation panel, which are often followed by a peripheral blood smear evaluation and a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration.

On rare occasions, leukemia can be diagnosed on histology alone. For example, AML is characterized by the presence of Auer rods (red-staining, needle-like bodies seen in the cytoplasm of myeloblasts) on a peripheral smear. In most other cases, more detailed analyseswith flow cytometry, cytogenetics, and FISH testing are required to distinguish between subtypes.[16]

A bone marrow aspiration and biopsy are often required for the diagnosis of acute leukemias. For chronic leukemias, peripheral blood evaluation is often enough, and an invasive bone marrow biopsy may not be needed. For example, CML can be diagnosed by looking for BCR-ABL fusion protein on peripheral blood FISH analysis. CLL can be diagnosed by looking for a monoclonal B-cell population through peripheral blood flow cytometry.

Treatment / Management

Patients with leukemia should be referred to a hematologist-oncologist to initiate treatment. Therapy varies significantly based on the leukemia subtype and patient factors (e.g., age, comorbid conditions).Acute leukemias are treated predominantly as an in-patient needing significant support, frequent monitoring of vitals, and assessment for opportunistic infections and electrolyte imbalances.The predominant challenge at the time of diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia is toidentify the possibility ofAPL, whichhas a significantly different treatment compared to the rest of AML.

APL:APL patients typically present with bleeding diathesis with increased coagulation parameters (elevated PT, aPTT) and low fibrinogen. Peripheral smear shows a predominance of myeloid blasts with Auer rods. It is important to start the treatment with ATRA (all-trans-retinoic acid) when APL is suspected rather than awaiting confirmatory tests with FISH. ATRA advances arrested promyeloblastsinto becoming mature granulocytes which can result in differentiation syndrome.[17]Differentiation syndrome is seen during 48 hours of ATRA initiation to even three weeks from starting therapy for APL. Patients have a fever, respiratory distress with acute pulmonary infiltration on imaging, and capillary leak resulting in edema. It can mimic sepsis,resulting in delaying the treatment with dexamethasone. The commonly accepted starting dosage is 10mg every 12 hours till improvement in symptoms and counts.[18]Other significant complication with ATRA includes raised intracranial pressure leading to headaches and significant vision changes from papilledema.

Specific treatment for APL depends on whether the patient is at low or intermediate risk (also known as standard risk) with a WBC count <10,000/ mcLor high risk with a WBC count >10,000/ mcL. Low or intermediate-risk APL is further differentiated by platelets above or below 40,000/mcL.

  • Standard-risk APL: Patients respond well to ATRA and arsenic trioxide (ATO) with lesser complications during induction and recoverywithout needing an allogeneic stem cell transplant (SCT). During the utilization of ATO, patients need to be monitored for electrolyte changes closely and electrocardiogram for QTc prolongation changes(Framingham formula).[19]

  • High-risk APL: Along with ATRA + ATO, high-risk patients achieve better responses with the addition of idarubicin.[20]Recent studies have includedCD33-targeted drug conjugate, gemtuzumab ozogamicin (GO), during the induction therapy combined with ATRA + ATO.[21]

APL patients have better overall survival and prognosis than other types of AML without needing a transplant.

AML:Standard therapy for AML is well known as the '7+3' regimen, which includes a 7-day course of cytarabine continuous infusion with a 3-day course of an anthracycline (either daunorubicin or idarubicin). With the advent of cytogenetics and NGS testing, patients are now beingrisk-stratified based on the molecular markersresulting in prognostic and therapeutic implications.[22]The outline of therapy based on the risk status per ELN (European LeukemiaNet)is as follows

Leukemia (1)


Standard 7+3 regimen with/without GO.[23] This chemo regimen can be attempted in patients > 60 years old if they have good tolerability as determined by performance status.


ALL is divided into B or T lymphocyte variants based on the lymphoblast origin and the presence of >20% lymphoblasts in peripheral smear or BM. The presence or absence of the Ph chromosome is the most important molecular markerleading to therapeutic implications in treating ALL.

Leukemia (2)


Combination of chemotherapy with oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) favorably 2nd generation and beyond such as dasatinib, ponatinib, bosutinib, nilotinib, and imatinib. Not all the TKI combinations have data with chemotherapy agents, and the availability(more...)

The overall outcome depends upon the patient's response to inductiontherapyand the presence or absence of MRD (minimal residual disease) needing further therapies and BMT.

CML:CML is one of the first cancers revolutionized by utilizing targeted therapy with Ph chromosome targeting TKIs. Patients have a significant response to TKIs, negating the need for acute chemotherapy unless they are in an accelerated phase/blast crisis. A patient's risk can be assessed based on multiple available calculators such as the Sokal score, EUTOS Score, and EUTOS long-term survival score (ELTS).[36][37][38]For patients having high-risk disease, second-generation (nilotinib, dasatinib, and bosutinib) TKIs are utilized as first-line therapy to achieve the therapy milestones faster with deeper responses.[39]For low and intermediate-risk patients, imatinib can beinitiated as first-line therapy. However, there is no significant difference in overall survival based on the generation of the TKI used.

Major milestones after initiation of TKI include:

  • At 3 months: BCR-ABL1 [International Scale (IS)] at ≤10 percent and/or ≤35%Ph-positivemetaphase cells

  • At 6 months: BCR-ABL1 (IS) at ≤1 percent or/and 0% Ph-positivemetaphase cells

  • At 1 year : BCR-ABL1 (IS) ≤0.1 percent

Patients need to be monitored for resistance mutations, predominantly T315I mutation, for which ponatinib, asciminib, and omacetaxine are approved.[40][41]Patients mightcontinue to develop resistance to multiple TKIs for whomSCT can be attempted.

CLL:CLL runs its course in a more indolent fashion than all the other leukemic subtypes, with the patient's lifespan minimally impacted by the disease. Patients do not benefit from early treatment unless they meet the criteria for therapy. Patients with a rapid doubling time of lymphocytes, worsening cytopenias, increasing spleen size causing abdominal discomfort, and significant B symptoms (fatigue, night sweats, and weight loss) benefit from treatment. The most important determinant in treating CLL is knowing the IGVH mutation status and the presence of del17p and TP53 mutation. t(11:14) is often obtained to rule out mantle cell lymphoma.

For patients with IGVH mutation who have a relatively good prognosis, chemotherapy with FCR (fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, rituximab)[42]or BR (bendamustine, rituximab)[43]can be attempted aspatients would be able to achieve prolonged disease-free survival for over ten years. For high-risk patients withdel17p /TP53 mutation, patients benefit significantly from targeted therapy with venetoclax (BCL-2 inhibitor) or Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitors (ibrutinib, acalabrutinib), either as a single agent or in combination with rituximab or obinutuzumab.[44][45][46][47]Older patients with comorbidities tolerate BTK inhibitors better.

Rarely do patients with CLL/SLL who have a dormant course present with acute aggressive lymphadenopathy. They need an urgent lymph node or bone marrow biopsy to rule outRichter transformation into aggressivediffuse large B cell lymphoma and rarely Hodgkin lymphoma or T cell lymphomas.

Differential Diagnosis

The differential diagnosis is broad because leukemia is a broad diagnosis with non-specific symptoms. One must rule out infection, drug effects, vitamin/micronutrient deficiencies, and other myelodysplastic disorders that can cause abnormalities in blood cell lines.

Consider the following when seeing abnormalities in the blood count:

  • B12 and folatedeficiencies

  • Copperdeficiencies

  • Viral infections (e.g., HIV, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus)

  • Drugs (chemotherapeutic agents, valproic acid, ganciclovir, mycophenolate mofetil)

  • Autoimmune conditions (e.g., systemic lupus erythematosus)


Long-term survival with leukemia varies tremendously based on leukemia subtype, cytogenetic and molecular findings, patient age, and comorbid conditions. Broadly, leukemia's 5-year cancer survival rate increased from 33% in 1975 to 59% in 2005.[6]


Tumor Lysis Syndrome (TLS)

TLS is a complication of chemotherapy that can result when tumor cells die quickly. The widespread cellular destruction releases intracellular contents into the bloodstream overwhelming the kidneys and resulting in dangerously high serum levels of potassium, phosphorus, and uric acid.[48]Patients need aggressive hydration, frequent lab monitoring, and management of hyperuricemia with allopurinol and rasburicase. Hyperkalemia and hypocalcemia can lead to significant cardiac toxicity requiring urgent correction.

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

DIC is a complication of leukemia itself in which the proteins that control the blood clotting process become dysfunctional, leading to both thrombosis and hemorrhage. DIC is often associated with acute promyelocytic leukemia butcan be seen inother subtypes of leukemia as well.[16]. Frequent lab monitoring with active replacement of fibrinogen with cryoprecipitate is vital to the patient's survival.


Immunosuppression from chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, or leukemia itself increases the risk of dangerous infections. Fever with neutropenia in an immunosuppressed patient should prompt an immediate evaluation for infection source and the initiation of broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy.[49]


Survivors of leukemia are at an increased risk of subsequent cancers. For example, the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study demonstrated that the 30-year cumulative incidence of any cancer after leukemia was 5.6%; the median time to occurrence of the subsequent cancer was nine years. The most common second neoplasms in childhood leukemia survivors are different subtypes of leukemia or lymphoma.[10]

Deterrence and Patient Education

Leukemia is the production of abnormal white blood cells from bone marrow and lymphatic tissues. Excess production of such white blood cells affects the production of normal blood cells, which are essential to fight infections, carry oxygen, and help clot blood. Such abnormal cell production can be fast, making it acute leukemia or a relatively slower process leading to chronic leukemia. Common symptoms include recurrent infections, weight loss, fatigue, fevers, abdominal pain, andbleeding.Multiple types of leukemias are present, and they require evaluation by a hematologist for further guidance on treatment.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Acute and chronic leukemiasare heterogeneous hematologicdiseases with complex diagnostic and therapeuticimplications requiring an interprofessional healthcare team. The involvement ofhealthcare professionals fromacross specialties and disciplines - clinicians, nurses, specialists (especially hematologists and oncologists), nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, etc. - isneeded toachieve effective management, mitigate adverse events, andensure their quality of life.

The patient'sinitial encounterwill often be with their family clinician, who runs initial bloodwork and other tests, but specialist input is an absolute necessity if there are any indications that leukemia is the diagnosis. Specialists will primarily guide the therapy regimen, but nursing will play a pivotal role in assisting in the evaluation, coordinating activities between specialists, and providing patient counseling. A specialized oncology pharmacist is a valuable asset to the team. Their consultation can help guide chemotherapy, appropriate dosing medication reconciliation, and medication counseling for patients, especially regarding adverse events. All interprofessional team members must maintain meticulous records on all interactions and interventions with the patient; this is part of communicating all patient data to the rest of the team. Everyone involved in care must keep other team members informed of any changes in the patient's condition as appropriate and include the patient in all care decisions, answering questions and offering counsel.Patient-centered communication and shared decision-making are integral to successful patient outcomes in the interprofessional team model. [Level 5]

Leukemia (3)


Blast crisis, Leukemia, CML. Contributed by Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (Public Domain)

Leukemia (4)


Hairy cell leukemia. Image courtesy S Bhimji MD

Leukemia (5)


Bone marrow biopsy of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia showing hypercellularity and expansion of immature granulocytic paratrabecular cuff. Contributed by Rina Eden, DO

Leukemia (6)


Image of leukemia cutis & Immunophenotyping of leukemia cutis using CD markers. Contributed by Shabir Bhimji, MD

Leukemia (7)


Simplified hematopoiesis. Contributed By A. Rad and M. Häggström. (CC-BY-SA 3.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en_US)



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Disclosure:Adithya Chennamadhavuni declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure:Varun Lyengar declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

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Disclosure:Alex Shimanovsky declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.


Leukemia? ›

Leukemia is cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Many types of leukemia exist. Some forms of leukemia are more common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults. Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells.

What is the survival rate for leukemia? ›

In the United States, overall, 5-year survival among people diagnosed with leukemia is 65%. However, these statistics vary greatly according to the specific subtype of disease: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) 5-year survival rate is 88%. Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) 5-year survival rate is 71.3%.

Is leukemia usually curable? ›

Leukemia is curable in some cases. Patients who remain in remission (meaning no cancer is detectable in the body) for an extended period are considered cured.

How do leukemia symptoms start? ›

Some signs of leukemia, like night sweats, fever, fatigue and achiness, resemble flu-like symptoms. Unlike symptoms of the flu, which generally subside as patients get better, leukemia symptoms generally last longer than two weeks, and may include sudden weight loss, bone and joint pain and easy bleeding or bruising.

What is the main cause of leukemia? ›

Causes of leukaemia

The cause of acute leukaemia is unknown, but factors that put some people at higher risk are: exposure to intense radiation. exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene. viruses like the Human T-Cell leukaemia virus.

Can you live a full life after leukemia? ›

Many people enjoy long and healthy lives after treatment for blood cancer. Sometimes, the treatment can affect a person's health for months or even years after it has finished. Some side effects may not be evident until years after treatment has ceased. These are called 'late effects'.

What age is leukemia most common? ›

Age: The risk of most leukemias increases with age. The median age of a patient diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is 65 years and older. However, most cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) occur in people under 20 years old.

Is leukemia hard to get rid of? ›

While there is currently no cure for leukemia, it is possible to treat the cancer to prevent it from coming back. Treatment success depends on a range of factors. Treatment can include: chemotherapy.

Is leukemia fatal if untreated? ›

As the names imply, acute leukemias occur quickly and can be rapidly life-threatening, unless treated urgently. On the other hand, chronic leukemias develop over longer periods of time and are associated with better survival than the acute leukemias.

Does leukemia affect life expectancy? ›

The 5-year relative survival rate for people age 20 and older is 43%. The 5-year relative survival rate for people under age 20 is 90%.

What does Stage 1 leukemia look like? ›

Stage 1 – A patient has high levels of white blood cells and enlarged lymph nodes. Stage 2 – A patient has high levels of white blood cells and is anemic. He or she may also have enlarged lymph nodes. Stage 3 – A patient has high levels of white blood cells and is anemic.

How long can you have leukemia without knowing? ›

Many people don't have any symptoms for at least a few years. In time, the cells can spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.

Does leukemia show in blood work? ›

Your doctor will conduct a complete blood count (CBC) to determine if you have leukemia. This test may reveal if you have leukemic cells. Abnormal levels of white blood cells and abnormally low red blood cell or platelet counts can also indicate leukemia.

Is leukemia always cancerous? ›

Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, but some leukemias start in other blood cell types. There are several types of leukemia, which are divided based mainly on whether the leukemia is acute (fast growing) or chronic (slower growing), and whether it starts in myeloid cells or lymphoid cells.

Is Leukaemia caused by stress? ›

Some studies have found that stress-related factors are associated with more rapid progression of several types of cancer, including blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.

What organ causes leukemia? ›

Leukemia starts in the soft, inner part of the bones (bone marrow), but often moves quickly into the blood. It can then spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system and other organs.

Is leukemia a leading cause of death? ›

Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are expected to cause the deaths of an estimated 57,750 people in the US in 2021. These diseases are expected to account for 9.5 percent of the deaths from cancer in 2021, based on the estimated total of 608,570 cancer deaths.

What is the life expectancy of a person with chronic leukemia? ›

The prognosis of patients with CLL varies widely at diagnosis. Some patients die rapidly, within 2-3 years of diagnosis, because of complications from CLL. Most patients live 5-10 years, with an initial course that is relatively benign but followed by a terminal, progressive, and resistant phase lasting 1-2 years.

How long can you live with stages of leukemia? ›

Median survival
Staging systemStageMedian survival
Rai0more than 12.5 years
1 and 27 years
3 and 41.5 years
BinetAMore than 10 years
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