Leukemia is a cancer affecting your blood cells, specifically those helping new blood cells form. Most people with leukemia have cancer that affects their white blood cells, the ones important for our immunity. But some leukemias affect other types of blood cells.
There are multiple types of leukemia. These provide different outlooks, growth rates and treatment options. Leukemia primarily affects bone marrow and blood, often spreading to other parts of the body.
Four main types of leukemia include:
Leukemia classification takes place after the doctor determines whether the cancer cells appear normal or like immature cells called stem cells. Acute leukemia keeps bone marrow cells from maturing as they should, whereas chronic leukemia allows the cells to mature to a certain degree.
Acute leukemia stops bone marrow cells from achieving proper maturation. Instead, your immature leukemia cells reproduce out of control and accumulate. Untreated acute leukemia is quickly deadly, but treatment provides many patients with a cure. The outlook for treated acute leukemia is good.
Chronic leukemia allows cells to achieve semi-maturity. These cells look somewhat normal but they fail to perform as they should. They do not fight infection well, live too long and crowd healthy cells. This type of leukemia progresses slowly, enabling diagnosed patients to live for a long time. But fewer people achieve remission from chronic leukemia, than acute versions of the disease.
Another means of classifying leukemia is by the type of bone marrow cells the cancer affects.
Myeloid leukemia develops in young myeloid cells, the cells responsible for making your non-lymphocyte white blood cells, red blood cells and platelet-making cells.
Lymphocytic leukemia develops in young lymphocytes. Many people refer to these cancers as lymphoid or lymphoblastic leukemia.
Leukemia is a complex cancer. Understanding your diagnosis is difficult. But your treatment team exists to help you understand and fight your disease. Ask questions for the answers you need. It is important for you to understand your needs and options.