Choose a type
On this page
- What is leukaemia (leukemia)?
- Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
- Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
- Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
- Symptoms of leukaemia (leukemia)
- Causes of leukaemia (leukemia)
- Diagnosis of leukaemia (leukemia)
- Treatment for leukaemia (leukemia)
- After leukaemia (leukemia) treatment
- About our information
- How we can help
Leukaemia (sometimes spelt as leukemia) is a cancer of the blood cells. If you have leukaemia, your body makes some abnormal blood cells. These leukaemia cells behave differently from healthy blood cells.
Different types of leukaemia are named according to:
- the type of blood cell which is affected
- whether the leukaemia is acute (faster growing) or chronic (slower growing).
Chronic leukaemias develop slowly and many people have no symptoms in the early stages. It may be discovered by chance after a routine blood test.
Acute leukaemias are more likely to cause symptoms that appear over a few weeks, and people often feel ill quite quickly.
We have more information about possible symptoms of symptoms of leukaemia.
Doctors do not know the exact causes of leukaemia. But there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it.
Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get leukaemia. Also, having no risk factors does not mean you will not develop leukaemia.
We have more information about the risk factors and causes of leukaemia.
Some people are diagnosed with leukaemia after being taken to hospital with symptoms that have developed quickly. Others go to see their GP about symptoms. If it is possible you have leukaemia, you will see a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating blood problems. This doctor is called a haematologist.
Tests to diagnose leukaemia include:
We have more information about these and any other tests you may have to diagnose leukaemia.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
The treatment you have will depend on the type of leukaemia you have. Treatments include chemotherapy, steroids, targeted therapy and stem cell transplants. You may have a combination of treatments.
Your doctor or specialist nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.
If you have an acute leukaemia you will usually need to start treatment as soon as possible. You will have some treatment as an inpatient in hospital. This can mean being in hospital for a few weeks at a time. If you have a chronic leukaemia you can usually have treatment as an outpatient. You may not need to start treatment straight away.
We have more information about:
Everyone has their own way of dealing with illness and the different emotions they experience. You may find it helpful to talk things over with family and friends or your doctor or nurse.
The organisations below also offer information and support:
- Blood Cancer UK
Blood Cancer UK is a blood cancer research charity that provides information and support on any type of blood cancer.
- Leukaemia CARE
Leukaemia CARE is a charity that provides care and support to patients, their families and carers whose lives have been affected by leukaemia, lymphoma or a related blood disorder.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our leukaemia information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Baccarani M, Pileri S, Steegmann JL, et al. on behalf of the eSMO Guidelines Working Group. Chronic myeloid leukemia: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2012. 23 (Supplement 7): vii72-vii77. Available at: www.annalsofoncology.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0923-7534%2819%2937658-6
Eichhorst, et al. on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Committee. Chronic lymphocyctic leukaemia: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2015. 26 (Supplement 5): v78-84. Available at: www.annalsofoncology.org/article/S0923-7534(19)47183-4/pdf
ESMO clinical guidelines. Eupdate - Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia treatment recommendations. June 2017. Available at: www.esmo.org/guidelines/haematological-malignancies/chronic-lymphocytic-leukaemia/eupdate-chronic-lymphocytic-leukaemia-treatment-recommendations
Fey MF, Buske C; on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Working Group. Acute myeloblastic leukaemias in adult patients: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24 (Supplement 6): vi138-vi143. Available at: www.annalsofoncology.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0923-7534%2819%2931560-1
Hoelzer D, et al. on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Committee. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in adult patients: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2016. 27 (Supplement 5): v69-v82. Available at: www.annalsofoncology.org/article/S0923-7534(19)31639-4/pdf
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE Guidance: Conditions and diseases: Blood and bone marrow cancer. Available at: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/topic/conditions-and-diseases/blood-and-immune-system-conditions/blood-and-bone-marrow-cancers
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editors, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist; and Dr Helen Marr, Consultant Haematologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.
How we can help
This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.