All types of leukemia develop when bone marrow cells undergo mutations known as leukemic changes. While healthy cells grow and divide at the rate necessary to replace old and damaged cells, leukemic changes can dramatically speed up that process. Over time, the resulting accumulation of mutated cells can outnumber the healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in the body, leading to leukemia.
Leukemia is classified in two different ways. First, there are two main types of leukemia, classified as acute or chronic, based on its speed of progression. With acute leukemias, immature blood cells (blasts) do not function properly and multiply at a very rapid pace. Chronic leukemias involve mature blood cells functioning normally for a period of time before becoming cancerous and replicating themselves at a slightly accelerated pace. The second way in which the condition is classified is by the type of cells affected. “Lymphocytic” means that the cancer affects the lymphoid cells (lymphocytes), which form the lymphatic tissue that makes up the body’s immune system, whereas “myelogenous” means the leukemia affects the myeloid cells, which make up the blood-forming tissue that produces red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet-producing cells.
What Are the Four Main Types of Leukemia?
There are four main types of leukemia, based on whether they are acute or chronic, and myeloid or lymphocytic:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia – The most common form of leukemia in children
- Acute myelogenous leukemia – The most common form of leukemia overall, affecting both adults and children
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia – The most prevalent form of chronic leukemia in adults
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia – Mainly affects adults and may produce few or no symptoms for months or even years
Other rare types of leukemia include hairy cell leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative disorders.
The Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center specializes in the evaluation and comprehensive treatment of patients with all types of hematologic diseases, including leukemia. Moffitt’s leukemia clinic is recognized as a Center of Excellence by the Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) Foundation. Moffitt is also one of four founding institutions of the Bone Marrow Failure Disease Consortium (BMFDC) that were recently funded by the National Institutes of Health.
As a high-volume cancer center, Moffitt offers state-of-the-art testing techniques, highly specialized diagnostic services and evidence-based approaches to treatment. Additionally, each patient case is reviewed by a multispecialty tumor board to ensure the best possible treatment and supportive care.