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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.

      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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