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Leukemia is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside the bone where blood cells develop. Abnormal white blood cells are generated within the bone marrow, multiply, and can quickly spread throughout the body, crowding out white and red blood cells and platelets. These abnormal cells then make it difficult for the rest of the normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets to function properly within the body, making a person prone to infection, bruising, and bleeding. There are four types of leukemia: acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL); acute myeloid leukemia (AML); chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL); and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Acute leukemia is characterized by rapidly growing cells and quickly diminishes a person’s health.


  • In 2013, it is estimated that 48,610 Americans will be diagnosed with new cases of leukemia.
  • Of the expected 48,610 new cases, it is estimated that 23,720Americans will die from leukemia.
  • In 2013, approximately 3,236 Texans will be diagnosed with leukemia, resulting in an estimated 1,624 deaths.
  • Leukemia accounts for about 1 in every 3 cancer cases in children, making it the most common form of cancer in children and adolescents.

Risk Factors  

  • Radiation and chemotherapy: People exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation, like cancer patients, can be at a greater risk for developing leukemia. Leukemia can be a side effect of chemotherapy treatments.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals: Benzene, the chemical found in solvents, gasoline, and the production of some products can cause acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoke is a direct risk for contracting AML as cancer agents in tobacco smoke enter the bloodstream and can be transported through the body.
  • Blood disorders: People with certain blood disorders are at increased risk.
  • Genetic diseases: People with congenital syndromes such as Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, and Blackfan-Diamond syndrome are at a greater risk.
  • Family history: For some types of leukemia, having a twin or other first degree relative with leukemia increases risk.


  • Swollen lymph nodes that are not painful
  • Frequent fevers or sweating at night
  • Feelings of weakness or tiredness
  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Joint or bone pain

Treatment Options 

Treating leukemia varies depending on the type of leukemia and age of the patient. However, patients with acute leukemia must be treated immediately. Treatment options for leukemia include:

  • Watchful waiting (for those with chronic leukemia)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Biological therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stem cell transplant

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Texas Cancer Registry