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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.

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. The acute leukemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 189.

Kantarjian H, O'Brien S. The chronic leukemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 190.

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  • Bone marrow aspiration

    Bone marrow aspiration

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  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

    Acute lymphocytic leuke...

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  • Auer rods

    Auer rods

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  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

    Chronic lymphocytic leu...

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  • Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

    Chronic myelocytic leuk...

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  • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

    Chronic myelocytic leuk...

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  • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

    Chronic myelocytic leuk...

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  • Cryoglobulinemia - of the fingers

    Cryoglobulinemia - of t...

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  • Antibodies

    Antibodies

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    • Bone marrow aspiration

      Bone marrow aspiration

      illustration

    • Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

      Acute lymphocytic leuke...

      illustration

    • Auer rods

      Auer rods

      illustration

    • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - microscopic view

      Chronic lymphocytic leu...

      illustration

    • Chronic myelocytic leukemia - microscopic view

      Chronic myelocytic leuk...

      illustration

    • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

      Chronic myelocytic leuk...

      illustration

    • Chronic myelocytic leukemia

      Chronic myelocytic leuk...

      illustration

    • Cryoglobulinemia - of the fingers

      Cryoglobulinemia - of t...

      illustration

    • Antibodies

      Antibodies

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

    Tests for Leukemia

     

    Review Date: 3/23/2014

    Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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