Leukaemia (sometimes spelt as leukemia) is a cancer of the blood cells. If you have leukaemia, your body makes some abnormal blood cells. These leukaemia cells behave differently from healthy blood cells.

Different types of leukaemia are named according to:

  • the type of blood cell which is affected
  • whether the leukaemia is acute (faster growing) or chronic (slower growing).

There are four main types of leukaemia, these are:

  • chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
  • chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
  • acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
  • acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

Another type of leukaemia is the less common hairy cell leukaemia.

Each type of leukaemia has its own characteristics and treatment. For more information on the different types of leukaemia, please follow this link.

Meet the Haematology team.

Am I at risk?

Doctors do not understand the exact cause of leukaemia, but there are certain things that may increase your risk of developing it. There are different risk factors associated with each of the types of leukaemia, these are outlined below.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

  • Age– over half the people diagnosed with CML are over the age of 65
  • Gender– CML is slightly more common in men than women
  • Radiation exposure– exposure to high levels of radiation increases risk

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

  • Age– most people diagnosed with CLL are over 60.
  • Sex– it is more common in men than women
  • Ethnicity- it most common in people of European origin

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

  • Age– more common in people aged 60 and over
  • Radiation exposure– exposure to high levels increases risk
  • Smoking– increases the risk of developing AML
  • Blood disorders – people with certain blood disorders have a higher risk
  • Genetic conditions – people with certain genetic conditions have a higher risk

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
The cause of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is not known. But research is going on all the time to find out more about it. Like other cancers, ALL is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.

For more information on the causes of leukaemia, please follow this link.

Symptoms of Leukaemia

Symptoms can depend on how quickly a leukaemia develops.

Chronic Leukaemia
Slower growing leukaemias such as chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) may cause no symptoms in the early stages. They may be discovered by chance after a routine blood test. If you do have symptoms, these may be mild and develop gradually. The symptoms can be confused with the symptoms of more common illnesses, such as flu.

Acute Leukaemia
Faster growing leukaemias such as acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) or acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) are more likely to cause symptoms that appear over a few weeks. People often feel ill quite quickly. Most symptoms of acute leukaemia are caused by leukaemia cells filling the bone marrow. This means healthy blood cells do not move into the blood as normal.

Examples of symptoms of leukaemia include:

  • Anaemia – a low number of red blood cells
  • A low number of white blood cells
  • A low number of platelets
  • Fever & night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Visual disturbances and headaches
  • Aching joints and bones

For more information on the symptoms of leukaemia, please follow this link.

Patient information

For more information from Macmillan regarding leukaemia, please follow this link.

For more information from Cancer Research UK regarding leukaemia, please follow this link.

Please follow this link for Leukaemia UK.