Leukaemia is the name given to the group of cancers that develop in the blood-forming tissue.

What is Leukaemia?

Leukaemia is the name given to the group of cancers that develop in the blood-forming tissue, typically the bone marrow (the spongy tissue inside the bone). Leukaemia is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal white-blood cells, which impacts normal blood cell production. This eventually impacts the body’s ability to fight infection and many other key areas of the body such as the liver, kidney and other organs.

There are several different types of leukaemia. The different types of leukaemia are named according to the type of white blood cell affected (lymphoid or myeloid), and how the disease appears and progresses (acute or chronic).

Types of Leukaemia

Acute and chronic classifications do not reflect how serious the disease is, but the rate of progression. Acute leukaemia develops and progresses rapidly, while chronic leukaemia appears gradually and is slow growing over months to years.

Due to the rapid nature of acute leukaemia treatment usually begins quickly after diagnosis. Chronic leukaemia may not require treatment for a long time after it is diagnosed.

Acute Leukaemia

Healthy bone marrow produces immature white blood cells, called blast cells. These blast cells then develop into mature white cells, red cells and platelets, and are eventually released into the blood stream.

In people with acute leukaemia, the diseased bone marrow produces an excessive number of abnormal blast cells, called leukaemic cells. These immature cells accumulate in the bone marrow interfering with the production of normal blood cells.

Common forms of acute leukaemia:

Chronic Leukaemia

In chronic leukaemia there is a build-up of mature but abnormal white blood cells that have undergone a malignant change when developing from a blast cell.

Common forms of chronic leukaemia are:

  • Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
  • Hairy cell leukaemia (HCL)

Signs and symptoms of Leukaemia

Many people with leukaemia have no symptoms, or very mild symptoms. However as the disease progresses the following symptoms may appear and worsen slowly:

  • Ongoing fatigue/tiredness
  • Pale complexion
  • Repeated infections such as mouth sores, sore throat, fevers, infected cuts, etc.
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen.
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Recurrent nosebleeds


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