Leukemia Home > Acute Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that is classified as being either chronic (meaning that it gets worse slowly) or acute (meaning that it gets worse quickly). In acute leukemia, the blood cells are very abnormal, the blood cells cannot carry out their normal work, and the number of abnormal cells increases rapidly. Common symptoms of this condition can include fever, fatigue, and frequent infections.

What Is Acute Leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue, such as the bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream. Each year, leukemia is diagnosed in about 29,000 adults and 2,000 children in the United States. Leukemia is either chronic (gets worse slowly) or acute (gets worse quickly).
In acute leukemia:
  • The blood cells are very abnormal
  • The blood cells cannot carry out their normal work
  • The number of abnormal cells increases rapidly
  • The disease progresses quickly.

Understanding Normal Blood Cells

Blood cells form in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft material in the center of most bones. Immature blood cells are called stem cells and blasts. Most blood cells mature in the bone marrow and then move into the blood vessels. Blood flowing through the blood vessels and heart is called the peripheral blood.

Acute Leukemia and Cells

In people with acute leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal cells are leukemia cells. At first, leukemia cells function almost normally. However, in time, they may crowd out normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, which makes it hard for blood to do its work.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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