Carolinas HealthCare System
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Understanding Leukemia Types, Symptoms and Treatments
Read more about the region's first  Blood and Marrow Transplant unit located at Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Cancer Institute.

To hear that you or a loved one has leukemia can be frightening. Here’s what you should know about the disease whether you are among the 43,000 Americans diagnosed each year, seeking out information for others, or simply looking to get the facts when it comes to this aggressive, yet treatable, form of blood cancer.

Leukemia Types

The types of leukemia are categorized by the type of cell affected and the rate of cell growth. Acute leukemia grows rapidly with a proliferation of immature blood cells in the bone marrow. This condition can be life-threatening, because the excessive, immature blood cells in the marrow interfere with the production of normal blood cells.

Therefore, patients with acute leukemia often suffer from anemia, infection, and/or bleeding. In addition, the immature blood cells can become numerous enough to plug up small blood vessels and block the blood flow to vital organs, a condition known as leukostasis.

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) involves lymphoid cells, which are one major subtype of white blood cell. ALL is the most common type of leukemia affecting young children, but it also can occur in adults.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) involves myeloid cells, which comprise the other major subtype of white blood cell. AML is the most common type of acute leukemia affecting adults, but it can also occur in children.

Chronic leukemia generally grows more slowly than acute leukemia and occurs when there are excess mature blood cells in the blood and/or bone marrow. It mainly affects those between ages 40 and 70.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) involves lymphoid cells and is observed mainly in people older than 55.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) involves myeloid cells and mainly affects adults.

Symptoms of Leukemia

Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type and severity of the disease. However, here are some of the more common symptoms for which you should seek out medical attention:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Unusual, frequent, or prolonged infections

Treatment for Leukemia

Treatment for leukemia is not a “one size fits all” approach and depends on many factors, including: age, overall health, and the type of leukemia. Patients work with their doctors to develop a personalized treatment plan, which often includes chemotherapy. In some cases, blood/marrow transplantation is recommended.

In 2013, Dr. Jonathan Gerber, the director of the leukemia program, and Dr. Michael Grunwald, a leukemia specialist, were recruited from Johns Hopkins to Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Cancer Institute to establish a leukemia program within the Department of Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorders. With the opening of the Charlotte region’s first and only blood and marrow transplant unit in early 2014, the leukemia program now provides cutting-edge treatment options and comprehensive care for patients with acute and chronic leukemias, myelodysplastic syndrome, and myeloproliferative neoplasms.