What is Leukaemia?
Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. With acute leukaemia, the bone marrow releases a large number of immature white blood cells which begin to rapidly disrupt the normal balance of cells in the blood.
This means that your body will not have enough red blood cells or platelet cells, and your white blood cells will not be properly formed, making you more vulnerable to infections.
Acute leukaemia is divided into two main types, which differ in the white blood cells affected. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is cancer of the lymphocytes, and acute myeloid leukaemia is cancer of the myeloid cells.
How common is Leukaemia?
Acute leukaemia is an uncommon type of cancer. Each year, in England and Wales, an estimated 2,700 new cases are diagnosed. Of these cases of acute leukaemia, about 2,100 are acute myeloid leukaemia. Acute myeloid leukaemia is more common in older people, with most cases occurring in people who are 50 or over.
Despite being uncommon overall, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is the most common type of cancer to affect children. Approximately 1 in every 2,000 children will develop acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
What are the symptoms of Leukaemia?
Symptoms of acute leukaemia include pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness, repeated infections, unusual and frequent bleeding, a high temperature, excessive sweating, bone pain, easily bruised skin, swollen lymph nodes and lost weight.
How is Leukaemia treated?
Leukaemia is treated in 3 stages. The first stage, induction, aims to kill the leukaemia cells in your bone marrow and restore your blood to proper working order and resolve any symptoms. Consolidation is the second stage, which aims to kill any remaining leukaemia cells in your central nervous system.
The final stage is maintenance, taking regular doses of chemotherapy tablets, to prevent the cancer coming back.
If access to Specialist Treatment centres is important, choose a policy with London Hospital coverage.