What Is Acute Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. A progressive, malignant disease of the blood-forming organs, characterized by distorted proliferation and development of leukocytes and their precursors in the blood and bone marrow. Leukemias were originally termed acute or chronic based on life expectancy but now are classified according to cellular maturity. Acute leukemia consist of predominately immature cells. Chronic leukemia are composed of more mature cells.

Leukemia accounts for about 2% of all cancers. It strikes 9 out of every 100,000 people in the United States every year. Men are more likely to develop leukemia than women, and white people get the disease more than other racial or ethnic groups. Adults are 10 times more likely to develop leukemia than children. Leukemia occurs most often in the elderly. When leukemia occurs in children, it happens most often before age 4.

What Is Acute Leukemia
With acute leukemia, immature blood cells reproduce quickly in the bone marrow, where they eventually crowd out healthy cells. When present in high numbers, these immature, abnormal cells sometimes can spread to other organs, causing damage, especially in a type of leukemia called acute myeloid leukemia.

The two main types of acute leukemia involve different types of blood cells:
Acute myeloid leukemia accounts for 50% of leukemia diagnosed in teenagers and in people in their 20s. It is the most common acute leukemia in adults. It occurs when primitive blood-forming cells called myeloblasts reproduce without developing into normal blood cells. Immature myeloblast cells crowd the bone marrow and interfere with the production of healthy normal blood cells. This leads to anemia (not having enough red blood cells), bleeding and bruising (due to a lack of blood platelets, which help the blood to clot), and frequent infections because there are not enough protective white blood cells.

Acute lymphoid leukemia is the most common type of leukemia that affects children, mainly those younger than 10. Adults sometimes develop acute lymphoid leukemia, but it is rare in people older than 50. It occurs when primitive blood-forming cells called lymphoblasts reproduce without developing into normal blood cells. These abnormal cells crowd out Healthy Heart blood cells. They can collect in the lymph nodes and cause swelling.