The Different Types of Leukemia

Scientist working at the laboratory.

Leukemia is a form of cancer that occurs when white blood cells develop mutations in their DNA. These abnormalities cause cells to grow and divide more rapidly than usual and to keep living when normal cells would die. This leads to healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets being reduced, which causes the signs and symptoms of leukemia.

The exact symptoms and treatment will vary depending on the type you suffer from. Leukemia is diagnosed based on the speed of its progression and the type of cells that are involved.

First Classification

The first level of classification is based on how fast the cancer is progressing. There are two different types in this classification:

  • Acute leukemia: Acute leukemia means that the abnormal blood cells are blasts, also known as immature blood cells. They multiply very rapidly and are unable to carry out their normal functions. This type of leukemia will require aggressive treatment and prognosis is most promising the earlier it is detected.
  • Chronic leukemia: Within this classification, there are many different types of chronic leukemias. Chronic leukemia involves more mature blood cells, meaning that they are able to function normally for at least a short period of time. Depending on the exact type, either too many cells are being produced or too few cells are being produced. Some types of chronic leukemia may not produce any symptoms early on, which means that it potentially can go undiagnosed for years.

Second Classification

The second level of classification depends on which type of white blood cells is being affected by cancer. There are also two different types of leukemia within this classification:

  • Lymphocytic leukemia: This type will affect the lymphoid cells, which are also called lymphocytes. These cells make up the lymphoid and lymphatic tissue, which is part of your immune system.
  • Myelogenous leukemia: Myeloid cells are the cells that are affected by this type of leukemia. They are responsible for producing red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet-producing cells.

Types of Leukemia

Based on both these classifications, there are four main types of leukemia:

  1. Acute lymphocytic leukemia: Although this form of leukemia can occur in adults, it is the most common type found in children.
  2. Acute myelogenous leukemia: This type of acute leukemia is more common in adults, but it can occur in children too.
  3. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: This is the most common chronic leukemia in adults. With this condition, you may feel completely normal for many years without receiving any treatment at all.
  4. Chronic myelogenous leukemia: This type of leukemia primarily affects adults rather than children. It may not produce any symptoms for several months or even years before the cells grow rapidly enough to be noticed and diagnosed.

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Posted on May 5, 2023