Synonyms: A blood cancer, Hematologic cancer

Medical Specialties: Internal medicine, Oncology, Pediatrics

Clinical Definition

Leukemia, from the Greek words for white (leukos) and blood (haima), is a disease that affects both children and adults. Also called a blood cancer, leukemia is a malignant disease of the blood and bone marrow (which produces all types of blood cells). Leukemia begins in immature cells of bone marrow and most often effects white blood cells. 

In Our Own Words

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood. It can be acute (progresses rapidly) or chronic (evolves more slowly) but unlike other cancers, leukemia produces no tumor or mass. Instead, this cancer results in an overproduction of abnormal white blood cells in the bloodstream.

Many white blood cells don't mature in a habitual way and cannot battle infections as normal white blood cells can. As abnormal cells accumulate, they disrupt production of other vital blood cells. This leads to a shortage of red cells that supply oxygen, too few platelets (crucial for proper clotting), and inadequate white blood cells for proper immune function. 

Relevant Conditions
  • Tumor lysis syndrome
Common Types
  • Acute lymphocytic
  • Chronic lymphocytic
  • Acute myelogenous
  • Chronic myelogenous
Side Effects
  • Anemia
  • Vulnerability to infections
Share this article
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Blood Cancers: Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma." Hematologic Cancers. May 2012. http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • American Cancer Society. "Leukemia" 2013. http://www.cancer.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Leukemia." Disorders & Conditions. Sept. 2008. http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
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