Leukemia Overview

Leukemia develops when a blood cell undergoes a transformation into a malignant cell -- one capable of uncontrolled growth. It is a cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and lymph system, in which the bone marrow produces a large number of abnormal white blood cells. Normal white blood cells are potent infection fighters. Abnormal white blood cells tend to accumulate in people with leukemia, blocking production of normal white blood cells and impairing a person's ability to fight off infection.

Although many people think of leukemia as a disease that only affects children, roughly 10 times as many adults are diagnosed with this cancer each year. In all, there are nearly 30,000 new cases of leukemia identified annually in the United States. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia and are the most common forms in adults. All types of leukemia are treatable, and most are potentially curable.

Patients with leukemia are treated at our Leukemia and Lymphoma Unit. You can also review the tabs at top of this page for information on leukemia types, symptoms, and risks.

For more detailed information on specific types of leukemia, see:


  • Fatigue
  • Paleness
  • Weight loss
  • Repeated infections
  • Bruising easily
  • Nosebleeds
  • Other hemorrhages


  • Down syndrome and certain other genetic abnormalities
  • Excessive exposure to ionizing radiation and to certain chemicals such as benzene, a commercially used toxic liquid that is also present in lead-free gasoline
  • Retrovirus, human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus-I (HTLV-1)

Because leukemia symptoms often resemble those of other, less serious conditions, early diagnosis of leukemia can be difficult. When a physician does suspect leukemia, it can be diagnosed using blood tests and bone marrow biopsy. For more specific information on a certain type of leukemia, see: