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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:

References

Appelbaum FR. Acute leukemias in adults. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 98.

Campana D, Pui C-H. Childhood leukemia. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 96.

  • Bone marrow aspiration

    Bone marrow aspiration - illustration

    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.

    Bone marrow aspiration

    illustration

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

    Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph - illustration

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

    Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

    illustration

  • Auer rods

    Auer rods - illustration

    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.

    Auer rods

    illustration

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

    Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view - illustration

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

    Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

    illustration

  • Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

    Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view - illustration

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

    Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

    illustration

  • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

    Chronic myelocytic leukemia - illustration

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

    Chronic myelocytic leukemia

    illustration

  • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

    Chronic myelocytic leukemia - illustration

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

    Chronic myelocytic leukemia

    illustration

    • Bone marrow aspiration

      Bone marrow aspiration - illustration

      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.

      Bone marrow aspiration

      illustration

    • Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

      Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph - illustration

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

      Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

      illustration

    • Auer rods

      Auer rods - illustration

      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.

      Auer rods

      illustration

    • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

      Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view - illustration

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

      Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

      illustration

    • Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

      Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view - illustration

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

      Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

      illustration

    • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

      Chronic myelocytic leukemia - illustration

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

      Chronic myelocytic leukemia

      illustration

    • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

      Chronic myelocytic leukemia - illustration

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

      Chronic myelocytic leukemia

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

    Tests for Leukemia

     
     

    Review Date: 1/19/2018

    Reviewed By: Richard LoCicero, MD, private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology, Longstreet Cancer Center, Gainesville, GA. 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.

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