Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood which arises from an excessive and uncontrolled growth of cells in the bone marrow.
Cancer is widely understood to mean the uncontrolled growth of cells and tissues in an organ of the body to form lumps or tumours. These tumours are also frequently called malignant tumours or malignant growths. After cardiovascular disease, cancer is the biggest cause of death in the UK.
Leukaemia differs from solid cancers like breast cancer or lung cancer, because the faulty cells are released into the blood stream, rather than forming a solid mass in the tissues. Microscopic examination or a leukaemic blood sample will often reveal an excess of circulating white cells. These cells will often look abnormal, and may be unable to carry out their normal functions.
As their numbers increase, they can accumulate in the spleen or lymph nodes causing secondary swelling and pain. As the disease progresses, the bone marrow too may become packed with abnormal white cells. There are many different types of leukaemia, depending on which kind of cells are involved. Some are more common than others, some are extremely rare. They are divided into two main groups, myeloid leukaemias and lymphoid leukaemias. These in turn are divided into two further groups, chronic and acute. The main subgroups of leukaemia can be found below.
There may be a variation in terminology or names for these different types of leukaemia, for instance acute myeloblastic leukaemia, is also sometimes called acute myeloid leukaemia, if there is another commonly used name for a specific leukaemia, it will be noted in the specific sections. There are altogether over 90 different types of leukaemia, and if your particular disease is not discussed here you can always contact Leukaemia CARE directly for more information, just call 08088 010 444.
- Overall, leukaemia is the twelfth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for more than 2% of all cancers.
- Around 8,300 people were diagnosed with leukaemia in the UK in 2010, that’s around 23 people every day.
- Leukaemia is the ninth most common cancer in males in the UK, with around 4,800 cases diagnosed in 2010.
- Leukaemia is the tenth most common cancer in females in the UK, with around 3,400 cases diagnosed in 2010.
- Around a third of all cancers diagnosed in children are leukaemias.
- Around 500 new cases of leukaemia were diagnosed in children under 15 in 2010 in the UK.
- Worldwide, around 350,000 people were diagnosed with leukaemia in 2008.
(Source - Cancer Research UK)
If you are affected by blood cancer, we have a range of support services that can help you. Take a look around our website for more information.
Reviewed March 2013