About Leukaemia

What is Leukaemia?

Leukaemia is a malignant disease (cancer) of the blood and bone marrow. It is characterized by the uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. Types of leukaemia are grouped by the type of cell affected and by the rate of cell growth. Leukaemia is either acute or chronic.

Leukaemia is divided into four major categories.
  • Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia
  • Chronic Lymphoblastic Leukaemia

Acute leukaemia is a rapidly progressing disease that affects mostly cells that are immature or primitive (not yet fully developed or differentiated). These immature functionless cells accumulate in the marrow and result in rapid bone marrow malfunction.

Chronic leukaemia progresses slowly and permits the growth of greater number of more developed cells; these mature cells can carry out some of their normal functions, the accumulation of these cells eventually causes bone marrow failure.

Leukaemia and age. The types of leukaemia tend to link with certain age groups. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is most common in children and in early adulthood. Acute myeloid leukaemia occurs more often in adults. Chronic leukaemia is more common in older people and is rare in young people, however there are exceptional cases.


What Causes Leukaemia?

The causes of leukaemia are not known. It is believed by scientists that genetic, environmental, immunologic and viral factors may be involved.


How Leukaemia is Diagnosed

The diagnosis is made based on the results of your blood, bone marrow aspiration and bone marrow biopsy. The appearance of the cells in the bone marrow will determine the type of leukaemia that is present.



This will depend on the type of leukaemia that is present; your doctor will select the treatment that is best suited for you.


Signs and Symptoms

  • One gets tired more easily.
  • Discomfort or pain in the bones and joints
  • Black and blue marks on the body with no apparent cause.
  • Red spots under the skin.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pale complexion due to anaemia.
  • Bleeding due to low platelet count.
  • Elevated temperature.


Risk Factors

  • Race: More frequent in people of European descent.
  • Gender: All types of leukaemia are higher in males than among females.
  • Age: The incidence rate differs for each type of leukaemia but in CML, CLL and AML, the rate increases in persons over the age of 40.


Other Haematological Conditions

  • Myelodyspladtic Syndrome (MDS). The bone marrow does not function normally and does not produce enough blood cells. Sometimes MDS can develop into acute leukaemia.
  • Essential Thrombocytosis
  • Polycythemia
  • Myelofibrosis
  • Refractory Anemia
  • Myeloproliferative Syndrome


Medical Disclaimer

The information given on this website is for educational purposes only. We do not diagnose or treat anyone. This information is intended for general reference and as such, can be taken out of context without professional medical guidance.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have any of the conditions mentioned, always ask your doctor before acting on any information you see here.

Some of the material used was taken from various international organisations and put together for the Barbadian public.

For further information about these diseases, we link to some international cancer-related services, including; The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) and The U.S. National Cancer Institute