Main Causes and Types of Leukemia

The most recent statistics on leukemia, or leukaemia, from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society claim that one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer every 3 minutes in America.

Leukemia characterizes types of cancer that can impact the bone marrow, the blood cells, the lymph nodes, and other areas of the lymphatic system, often resulting in abnormal and excess white blood cells (or blast cells) that are unable to protect the body from infection and other threats to health. All leukemias are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which cause cell mutations in the DNA of white blood cells and, as a result, abnormal white blood cell function. Leukemia exists in the following 4 main types, which are named for the cancer origin and relative progression:

1. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (or better known as CLL) mainly strikes patients over the age of 55-years old, and very rarely develops in child patients. However, the average majority of CLL patients are diagnosed by 70-years of age, and have a survival rate of approximately 83%. With roughly 20,000 new diagnosis yearly, CLL is considered a chronic cancer, which means the development and progression is slow, yet if not treated with a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, and/or immunology, CLL is very likely to metastasize to the nearby liver or spleen. While medical researchers are still looking for the exact cause of CLL, they suspect it’s due to abnormal lymphocytes accumulating in the blood and bone marrow, where they force healthy cells out and impede normal, healthy blood cell production.

2. Chronic myeloid leukemia
Chronic myelogenous (or myeloid) leukemia is also known as CML, which accounts for approximately 9,000 new leukemia cases yearly, mainly affecting adult patients. With a 5-year survival rate of almost 67%, CML develops within the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow, where it then travels via the bloodstream and slowly spreads to nearby organs and tissues, if left untreated with a combination of oral chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplant, and/or immunotherapy. CML occurs due to a broken Philadelphia chromosome (or Ph chromosome), which leads to The tyrosine kinase caused by the BCR-ABL gene, all of which contain the Ph chromosome, and cause the overproduction of diseased white blood cells.

3. Acute lymphocytic leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic (or lymphocytic) leukemia, more commonly shortened to ALL, develops when healthy white blood cells are replaced rapidly with leukemia cells (known as functional lymphocytes) that never reach maturity within the bone marrow. Rather than safeguarding the body, these abnormal cells travel via the bloodstream to invade nearby healthy organs and tissues of the liver, brain, lymph nodes, and testes. The majority or ALL patients are diagnosed between the ages of 2- and 4-years old, making ALL responsible for 6,000 childhood leukemias (every 3 in 4 children diagnosed) yearly. ALL has a survival 5 year survival rate of approximately 68%. Oncologists commonly recommend a treatment course of chemo and stem cell transplant, however, radiation, and/or immunotherapy may also be recommended.

4. Acute myeloid leukemia
The most prevalent type of blood and bone marrow cancer, acute myelogenous (or myeloid) leukemia, or AML, affects both child and adult patients alike, accounting for roughly 21,000 new cancer diagnosis yearly. AML has a 5-year survival rate of just under 27%. Not only is AML the most common form of leukemia; it’s also develops the most aggressively compared to other leukemias. AML is diagnosed in 8 cancer subtypes (M0 to M7), named for the cell where the leukemia originated from. The vast majority of AML patients receive a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, targeted cancer therapies, and stem cell transplant in rarer cases.