Leukemia Types Acute

Two broad types of leukemia exist: chronic and acute leukemias. Acute leukemias are characterized by a rapid accumulation of leukemia cells and equally rapid disease progression. Without treatment, acute types of leukemia are usually fatal within months of diagnosis.

Furthermore, two types of acute leukemia exist: acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common cancer in children, while acute myelogenous leukemia is more common in adults.

Acute Leukemias and White Blood Cells

Acute leukemias are classified by the types of white blood cells affected. Acute myelogenous leukemia occurs due to changes in the myeloid cells, stem cells that produce red blood cells, platelets, and two other types of white blood cells called monocytes and granulocytes. Acute lymphocytic leukemia emerges in lymphoid cells, which develop into white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Acute Types of Leukemia and Disease Progression

Both acute myelogenous leukemia and acute lymphocytic leukemia result in high levels of leukemia cells in the bloodstream. These leukemia cells “crowd out” healthy red and white blood cells. The two types of leukemia accomplish this in different ways:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia cells have a longer lifespan than normal blood cells, and accumulate by outliving their healthy counterparts.
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia cells don’t live as long as ALL cells, but reproduce so quickly they out-compete healthy cells.

General Symptoms of Acute Leukemias

Symptoms of acute types of leukemia include:

  • Anemia
  • Bleeding problems
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Easy bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Increased infections
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weight loss.

Children with acute lymphocytic leukemia are also prone to bone and joint pain.

Diagnosing Acute Leukemias

A diagnosis of acute leukemia usually occurs a few weeks after symptoms begin. A complete blood test and blood smear reveal abnormalities suggestive of leukemia, and a bone marrow biopsy and other techniques help determine the type of leukemia.

Treatment for Acute Leukemias

Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for acute types of leukemia. Chemotherapy uses specifically tailored medication to kill cancerous cells. Radiation therapy and stem cell transplantation are also employed in some cases. The ultimate goal for any acute leukemia treatment is the complete remission of the disease, meaning a complete absence of leukemia cells from the body.

Acute Leukemias: Survival Rates

Survival rates for both acute myelogenous leukemia and acute lymphocytic leukemia have improved dramatically over the last 50 years, due to improved treatments and a better understanding of the disease.

With treatment, AML has a remission rate of 50 to 85 percent, according to Merck Pharmaceuticals (2008). ALL that is treated initially has a 95 percent remission rate in children under the age of 5, with adult remission rates ranging from 70 to 90 percent. Without treatment, both types of leukemia are fatal within months of diagnosis.


Hu, W. and Hale, K. (n.d.). Leukemia overview. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/leukemia/article_em.htm.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2009). Leukemia facts and statistics. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page.adp?item_id=9346.

Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (2008). Acute leukemia. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec11/ch142/ch142b.html.