Font Size


Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the number of white blood cells in either the blood or bone marrow increases abnormally. Leukemia may get worse quickly (acute leukemia) or slowly (chronic leukemia).

Symptoms of leukemia include:

  • Low numbers of red blood cells (anemia). A person with leukemia may feel tired or weak or have a pale appearance.
  • Low numbers of the cells that help blood to clot (platelets). The person may notice that he or she bruises more easily.
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes) and an enlarged spleen and liver.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Unexplained fever, pain, or night sweats.

In some forms of leukemia a person may have few or no symptoms.

There are four main types of leukemia in adults: acute lymphoblastic (ALL), acute myelogenous (AML), chronic lymphocytic (CLL), and chronic myelogenous (CML). The main types that affect children are ALL and AML. Each type of leukemia has subtypes. A doctor find out which type of leukemia is present by examining blood cells under a microscope.

Treatment for leukemia depends on the specific type of leukemia and the stage of the disease. It may include blood transfusions, chemotherapy, radiation, or a stem cell transplant.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerBrian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last RevisedDecember 17, 2010

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

To learn more visit

© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Medical Dictionary