Adult Leukemia: Five Things You Need to Know

More than 52,000 new cases of adult leukemia are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Although it is one of the more common childhood cancers, leukemia is found more often in older adults.

As September marks Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month, we look at some important facts about adult leukemia:

1.     What are the different types of leukemia?

Leukemia cells
Leukemia cells

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. Main types of leukemia include:

  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)(ALL) is a type of leukemia in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes. Similar to AML, the white blood cells can be high or low and oftentimes the platelets and red blood cells are low. This form of leukemia is more common in children than adults.


2.     What are the symptoms of leukemia?

People with adult leukemia may experience fever, fatigue, bruising easily, shortness of breath, pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs, appetite loss, and weight loss.


 3.     What are the risk factors for developing leukemia?

While studies have shown men to be more at risk than women, some other risk factors include older age, smoking, having had chemotherapy or radiation exposure in the past, and having certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome.


 4.     How do doctors test for leukemia?

While test procedures vary based on the type of leukemia, the two most common procedures are the complete blood count (CBC) test and the bone marrow aspiration biopsy.

CBC is a procedure used to check the red blood cell and platelet counts, the number and type of white blood cells, the amount of hemoglobin in the blood, and the amount of blood made up of red blood cells. A bone marrow aspiration biopsy involves removing a sample of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a needle into the hipbone or breastbone. The sample is then examined for abnormal cells.


5.     How is leukemia treated?

Leukemia is treated differently depending on the type and specific diagnosis. The most common treatments include chemotherapy and stem-cell transplantation.

Patients may also consider treatment through a clinical trial. Dana-Farber currently has more than 30 clinical trials for adult leukemia. A national list of clinical trials is available at

For more information on adult leukemia, visit the website for the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center Adult Leukemia Program.