Leukemia is a broad term covering a range of malignancies of white blood cells. Leukemia is caused by an abnormal proliferation (uncontrolled production) of white blood cells (leukocytes). They are divided into acute and chronic forms based on the rapidity of growth of the malignant clone and its extent of differentiation.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.  It is more common in adults than children.  The bone marrow normally makes a limited number of immature cells called blasts.  Blasts normally develop into white blood cells that fight infection.  In AML, however, the blasts are abnormal. They do not differentiate correctly and cannot fight infections so they accumulate in blood and bone marrow.  The bone marrow may also make abnormal red blood cells and platelets.  The number of leukemia cells may grow quickly and crowd out the normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets the body needs.  The symptoms of AML can include: tiredness, fevers, bleeding complications, and/or infections.  Treatment for AML includes chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, transfusions, and/or support drugs.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) Acute lymphoblastic (or lymphoid) leukemia (ALL) is a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.  It is more common in children than adults.  In ALL, immature lymphocytes continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow and nodes.  ALL causes damage and death by crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow and by spreading to other organs.  The symptoms of ALL can include: weakness, fatigue, anemia, unexplained fever and infections, weight loss, bone pain, shortness of breath, and/or enlarged lymph nodes, liver, and/or spleen.  Treatment for ALL includes chemotherapy, steroids, radiation, bone or stem cell transplants, transfusions, and/or support drugs.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a relatively slow-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow yielding highly mature cells.  In CML, too many blood cells develop into a type of white blood cell, called granulocytes.  These abnormal granulocytes do not form healthy, infection-fighting cells.  These cells cause damage by building up in the bone marrow and blood and crowd out healthy infection fighting cells, red blood cells, and platelets.  Patients with CML may not experience any noticeable symptoms at diagnosis, but if the cell number becomes too high, they may develop lumps, clots, or more ominously, blast crisis if left untreated.  A diagnosis may be suspected due to an elevated white blood cell count visible in a routine laboratory test.  If symptoms do occur, they can include: fever, unexplained infections, weight loss, anemia, clotting, strokes, and/ or enlarged spleen.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Chronic lymphocytic (or lymphoid) leukemia (CLL) is a slow-growing cancer of mature lymphocytes in the blood and bone marrow.  It generally occurs in older patients. CLL affects a particular lymphocyte, the B-cell, which may reside in the bone marrow, generally develops in the lymph nodes, and normally fights infection.  In CLL, cells do not fully differentiate, so that they can’t fight infection, and out-of-control growth crowds out normal cells that fight infection.  While generally considered incurable, many people with CLL lead normal and active lives for many years—in some cases for decades even without treatment.  Treatment can include chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and/or support drugs.

To learn more about the various tests that Genoptix might perform on a suspected leukemia, click here.

For more information about leukemia, visit www.leukemia-lymphoma.org.