Leukemias are cancers of the blood and bone marrow that can affect people of any age, though some people may be more likely to develop the conditions. Leukemia begins when blood stem cells in the bone marrow develop genetic mutations that cause leukocytes (white blood cells) to develop abnormally, grow too quickly, and avoid destruction by the immune system. Overproduced cancer cells multiply in the bone marrow and crowd out healthy blood cells, leading to symptoms of leukemia.
Here are some key facts and statistics about leukemia, based on current evidence from cancer research.
Prevalence and Incidence
- Approximately every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with blood cancer — leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma.
- Roughly 1 in every 10 new cancer cases in the U.S. is one of blood cancer.
- As of 2020, roughly 376,508 people in the U.S. — or approximately 1 out of every 1,000 people — are currently living with or are in remission from leukemia.
- For adults, the risk of developing leukemia at any point in their lives is 1.6 percent.
- A person’s age can increase their chance of developing certain types of cancer.
- Men are slightly more likely than women to develop leukemia.
- Non-Hispanic whites are the most common group to be affected by leukemia. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the least likely to be affected.
- Down syndrome significantly increases a person’s risk of developing childhood leukemia.
- Previous cancer treatment may increase future risk. A major side effect of chemotherapy and radiation in cancer patients is damage to healthy cells, which can one day become cancerous themselves.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common type of leukemia in adults, making up 38 percent of leukemia cases. It is much more common in older adults.
- Most people diagnosed with CLL are over the age of 40, with 70 being the average age of diagnosis.
- In most cases, CLL does not cause any noticeable symptoms at the time of diagnosis.
- Most cases of CLL are found accidentally during otherwise routine blood tests.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the second most common type of leukemia in the U.S.
- AML is also known as acute myelogenous leukemia.
- There are different subtypes of AML, all of which are based on what type of cells are cancerous and how mature they are.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia among children and adolescents, accounting for 76 percent of pediatric leukemia cases.
- ALL also has two subtypes, B-cell ALL and T-cell ALL, depending on what cells are affected and how.
- B-cell ALL accounts for 75 percent of cases of ALL.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) — also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia — most commonly affects middle-aged or elderly people.
- Most people with CML have the same genetic mutation associated with their leukemia, called the Philadelphia chromosome, which is the target of many drugs for CML.
Carcinogens and Leukemia
- Carcinogens are toxic substances that can increase your risk of cancer.
- Benzenes — which can come from hazardous waste, industrial sources, cigarette smoke and some gasolines — are especially linked to AML, but they are associated with other leukemia types as well.
- Exposure to formaldehyde, which is used for embalming and can also be found in many chemical labs and manufacturing plants, is linked to leukemia.
Survival and Leukemia
- The vast majority of people who get leukemia survive past their treatment.
- The five-year survival rate for leukemia has quadrupled since the 1960s as new treatments have come out.
- Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of all people diagnosed with ALL achieve five-year survival, including 92 percent of children with ALL.
- Five-year relative survival is highest for CLL (88 percent), followed by ALL, CML (70 percent), and AML (29 percent).
- The survival rate for AML is much higher for children (69 percent) than for adults (29 percent).
Late Effects and Complications
- Leukemia survivors are up to seven times more likely to have a second blood cancer compared to people who have never had leukemia.
- The most common second cancers are brain cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and thyroid cancer.
- Low red blood cell count (anemia, causing fatigue) and low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia, causing bleeding and easy bruising) are often also present in people with leukemia. These cells are also made in the bone marrow, and they can be “crowded out” by leukemia cells.
- Leukemia is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths among men in the U.S. and eighth among women, behind more common types of cancer such as lung, prostate, and breast cancers.
- The most common cause of death among people with acute leukemias (ALL and AML) is bleeding and infection.
Talk With Others Who Understand
MyLeukemiaTeam is the social network for people with leukemia and their loved ones. On MyLeukemiaTeam, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with leukemia.
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