Leukemia is a blood cancer that results when stem cells in the bone marrow produce abnormal blood cells. The disease – which occurs in children and adults – affects the early forms of blood cells in the bone marrow. Most often, white blood cells are compromised, though leukemia can also affect other types of blood cells. White blood cells fight infection, so if you develop leukemia, your body’s immune system can’t function properly. The abnormal cells also crowd out the normal, healthy cells.
There are several types of leukemia in children and adults, which are classified as either chronic (slow growing) or acute (fast growing) and by either lymphocytic or myelogenous, depending on the type of white blood cell that is affected.
Commonly thought of as a childhood cancer, leukemia is actually much more common in adults. While symptoms of the disease are consistent among each, researchers are beginning to understand more about underlying biological factors that influence the different ways leukemia develops in children and adults.