Leukaemia is divided into two main groups:

Each kind of leukaemia is different and will need to be treated differently. The information in this section is about leukaemia generally.

What is leukaemia?

Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer that affects blood cells, usually white blood cells, and bone marrow. White blood cells are an important part of your immune system that fight infection, and bone marrow is where blood cells like these are made.

People with leukaemia have large numbers of abnormal blood cells, usually types of white blood cell, which take over the bone marrow and spill out into the bloodstream. Other areas that might be affected are lymph nodes (glands), spleen, liver, testes, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, gums and skin.

Leukaemia is divided into many different types – some which develop faster (acute leukaemias) and others which develop more slowly (chronic leukaemias). Each type of leukaemia acts differently, and will need to be treated differently. When you’re looking for information about leukaemia, it really helps to know the proper medical diagnosis so that you can find the right information.

What causes leukaemia?

Around 8,000 people are diagnosed with a type of leukaemia every year. However, in many cases, we still don’t know what causes leukaemia.

We know that some things that we can’t change have an impact on the chance of someone getting leukaemia, like age and gender. We also know that there are sometimes external factors which can have an impact, like exposure to radiation or chemicals, or having treatment for a different type of cancer.

Patient Information Forum member NHS Information Standard certified member