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UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Leukemias are cancers that start in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow, and cause large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream. Leukemia is diagnosed 10 times more often in adults than in children, although it often is thought of as a childhood disease. Leukemias occur more commonly in men than in women. In Los Angeles County, 965 people will be diagnosed with leukemia in 2007. Of those, 560 people will die.

Types of Leukemia
Leukemia is a complex disease with different subtypes. Treatments and prognosis vary greatly according to the leukemia type and other individual factors. There are four types of leukemias: Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • 70 percent of cases are in children, 30 percent in adults; most leukemias in children are ALL.
  • Occurs in very young children aged three to six.
  • Usually spreads to the brain and spinal cord, so these areas are also treated.
  • Age is the most important factor affecting prognosis – most children are cured, most adults are not.
  • Treatment is usually chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy to the brain.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia
  • Seen mostly in adults (90%) and incidence increases with age; less common in children.
  • The older the patient, the lower cure rate.
  • There are many subtypes based on the microscopic appearance of the cells and the best predictor of treatment benefit comes from analysis of abnormalities in the chromosomes.
  • Treatment is usually chemotherapy.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • Disease of older people in their 60s.
  • Treatment is chemotherapy; but complete remissions are rare and the disease probably cannot be cured, so aggressive therapy is not recommended.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
  • Disease of middle-aged people in their 50s; seen rarely in children.
  • Philadelphia chromosome is abnormal in CML.
  • Survival is increasing due to new drugs such as Gleevec and Sprycel, both of which were developed in part based on work by UCLA researchers.

Sources: American Cancer Society, California Cancer Registry

Last updated: 7/10/2008 10:55:58 AM