Leukemia is either acute or chronic and can arise in either of the two main types of white blood cells — lymphoid cells or myeloid cells. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia in young children, but it also affects adults, especially those 65 and older. Acute myeloid leukemia occurs in both adults and children. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia most often affects adults over the age of 55 and almost never affects children. Chronic myeloid leukemia occurs mainly in adults.

Risk Factors

  • Radiation — People exposed to very high levels of radiation are much more likely than others to get acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, or acute lymphocytic leukemia.
  • Smoking — Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of acute myeloid leukemia
  • Benzene— Exposure to benzene in the workplace can cause acute myeloid leukemia. It may also cause chronic myeloid leukemia or acute lymphocytic leukemia. Benzene is used widely in the chemical industry. It's also found in cigarette smoke and gasoline.
  • Chemotherapy— Cancer patients treated with certain types of cancer-fighting drugs sometimes later get acute myeloid leukemia or acute lymphocytic leukemia. For example, being treated with drugs known as alkylating agents ortopoisomerase inhibitors is linked iwth a small chance of later developing acute leukemia.
  • Down syndrome and certain other inherited diseases — Down syndrome and certain other inherited diseases increase the risk of developing acute leukemia.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome and certain other blood disorders — People with certain blood disorders are at increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) — People with HTLV-I infection are at increased risk of a rare type of leukemia known as adult T-cell leukemia. Although the HTLV-I virus may cause this rare disease, adult T-cell leukemia and other types of leukemia are not contagious.
  • Family history of leukemia — It's rare for more than one person in a family to have leukemia. When it does happen, it's most likely to involve chronic lymphocytic leukemia. However, only a few people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia have a father, mother, brother, sister, or child who also has the disease.


  • Bone or joint pain
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms
  • Frequent infections
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Sweating (especially at night)
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes, liver or spleen
  • Tiny red spots (under the skin)
  • Weakness and fatigue


The doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam and review your medical history. Blood and bone marrow tests may also be administered. A bone marrow biopsy is performed with a larger needle and removes a small piece of bone and bone marrow. A spinal tap checks for leukemia cells in the fluid that fills the spaces in and around the brain and spinal cord. X-rays can reveal signs of the disease in the chest.

Source: National Cancer Institute