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Leukemia, cancer of the bone marrow and blood, is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of blood cells. There are four main types:

  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) results from genetic damage to the DNA of developing cells in the bone marrow. Risk factors include exposure to radiation and benzene; chemotherapy used to treat breast or ovarian cancer and lymphomas; and genetic disorders such as Down syndrome.
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) results from an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell in the bone marrow. It is the most common form of the disease in children. Risk factors to children include exposures to infectious or toxic agents during fetal development or early childhood.
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) results from an injury to the DNA of a stem cell in the marrow leading to the uncontrolled growth of white cells. Adults over the age of 30 represent 98 percent of the CML cases diagnosed. Risk factors include radiation.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) results from a malignant disorder involving a progressive accumulation of small, mature-appearing lymphocytes in blood lymph nodes, spleen and bone marrow. There seems to be no direct link to radiation, but this form of leukemia has been associated with farming and rubber manufacturing.

New Cases

  • In 2020, 60,530 people are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia.


  • There are an estimated 376,508 people living with or in remission from leukemia in the US.


  • The 5-year relative survival rate for leukemia has more than quadrupled, from 14 percent in whites from 1960 to 1963 (the only data available) to 65.8 percent for all races from 2009 to 2015.
  • From 2009 to 2015, the five-year relative survival rates overall were
    • ALL – 71.7 percent overall, 91.9 percent for children and adolescents younger than 15 years, and 94.1 percent for children younger than 5 years
    • AML – 29.4 percent overall and 68.7 percent for children and adolescents younger than 15 years
    • CLL – 88.2 percent
    • CML – 69.7 percent*.

*The survival rate of CML in clinical trials is higher than the survival rate reported here, based on SEER data. It is speculated that close clinical monitoring and better medication adherence in clinical trials are associated with a lower risk of disease progression and higher rates of survival.


  • In 2020, 23,100 people are expected to die from leukemia (13,420 males and 9,680 females).
  • From 2012 to 2016, leukemia was the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the US.
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