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Leukemia occurs when cancer forms in blood cells located in bone marrow, the center of the bone where blood cells are produced. Blood cells in the body die naturally and new cells are formed in the bone marrow to replenish lost cells.

There are three types of blood cells created in the bone marrow:

  • White blood cells – help fight infection.
  • Red blood cells – carry oxygen around the body.
  • Platelets – form blood clots to stop bleeding.

Normally, blood cells are produced as the body needs them. When leukemia develops, the body produces large numbers of abnormal cells. When leukemia cells collect in the blood stream over time they outnumber normal bloods cells making it difficult for healthy cells to play their role. Leukemia can progress slowly (chronic leukemia) or rapidly (acute leukemia). It is the most common cancer in children.


The four main types of leukemia are:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – Most common in young children. Occurs in adults as well.
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) – Occurs in both children and adults.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) – Most common in adults over the age of 55. Unlikely to occur in children.
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) – Occurs mostly in adults.


Leukemia symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia and the number of leukemia cells collecting in various parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, brain and spine. Some common symptoms may include:

  • Swelling in the armpit, neck, or groin from swollen lymph nodes.
  • Fever and night sweats.
  • Bruising or bleeding easily.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Swelling in the abdomen from swollen spleen or liver.
  • Bone or joint pain.
  • Tiredness or weakness.
  • Weight loss.

If you or your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a MemorialCare Physician partner.

Risk Factors & Prevention

You are at a greater risk for leukemia risk if you:

  • Are exposed to radiation and/or chemotherapy.
  • Smoke or are exposed to smoke.
  • Are exposed to the chemicals, such as benzene, found at work environments.
  • Have the inherited disorder, down syndrome.
  • Have the blood disorder, myelodysplastic syndrome.
  • Have been infected with human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I).
  • Have a family history of leukemia.

The causes of leukemia are unknown. You can lower your risk for leukemia by not smoking and by reducing your exposure to radiation, chemotherapy and chemicals often found in the work environment.

Locations Treating Leukemia