One type of leukemia often shows symptoms, the other doesn’t.
Leukemia is an umbrella term for cancers of the blood and bone marrow.
The bone marrow is the soft inner part of bones where new blood stem cells are created. In a normal blood cell process, the stem cells slowly mature into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, before circulating throughout the body.
In someone with leukemia, however, abnormal cancer cells affect this blood cells production. The cancer cells do not function like healthy blood cells, thus depriving the individual of healthy blood function. Like all cancer cells, they grow and divide rapidly, crowding out the healthy cells in the bone marrow and potentially spreading to other parts of the body.
The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Leukemia
Blood cancers, such as leukemia, are very complex. Leukemia has several subtypes which depend on the type of blood cell affected (myeloid or lymphoid) and the rate at which the cancer progresses. This rate of progression is what classifies the cancer as acute or chronic.
Acute leukemia means the affected stem cells cannot mature at all, and the leukemia progresses quickly. “With acute leukemia, the cells are multiplying very quickly, and the majority of the patient will become symptomatic very early,” says Michal Bar-Natan Zommer, MD, assistant professor of hematology and oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Those with acute forms of leukemia tend to have more severe symptoms than those with chronic forms of leukemia. These symptoms may be vague or non-specific, and differ depending on the type of leukemia you have, such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
- Unintended weight loss
- Fever with no obvious cause
- Shortness of breath
- Paleness from anemia
- Frequent infections that are hard to treat
- Or easy bruising and bleeding.
“For the acute leukemia you have to get treatment immediately because otherwise the disease will progress very quickly and give you more symptoms,” says Dr. Zommer.
Chronic leukemia means the stem cells are able to develop partially, but do not function as effectively as healthy mature blood cells. As a result, chronic leukemia tends to be less severe and spread more slowly than acute leukemias.
“With the chronic phase the cells usually grow very slowly and accumulate over time, and therefore the patients have no symptoms for a long period of time,” says Dr. Zommer.
Although many patients may not have symptoms initially, symptoms can develop—especially if the cancer spreads. For instance, in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, “the cells growing in the [bone marrow and blood] eventually will grow in the lymph nodes, in the spleen, or in the liver,” says Dr. Zommer.
As the cancer spreads, the patient may start to feel lumps in their neck or elsewhere in their body. “They can be tired because they have anemia, [or] they can have recurrent infection because their ability to fight infection is a little bit less,” says Dr. Zommer.
Treatment for blood cancers such as leukemia vary depending on the type and subtype the patients has. “If [a patient] is feeling unwell, you should definitely go an seek advice and go to a physician,” says Dr. Zommer.
“Today the prognosis is better than it was before,” says Dr. Zommer. Lots of ongoing research is providing new ideas, insights, and potential solutions. “Fighting the cancer [has] become easier [and] more successful with time.”
Michal Bar-Natan Zommer, MD, is a hematologist and oncologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
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We have few different kinds of leukemia,
acute leukemia versus chronic leukemia.
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And this usually implies that rapidity
of the cells that are multiplying.
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Leukemia are a group of blood cancers of
cells that originate in the bone marrow.
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With leukemia, we usually have some
kind of a defect in a very early cell
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that creates the advantage for
the cell to multiply more and
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sometimes not too mature
enough to do its job.
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With acute leukemia,
the cells multiplying very quickly, and
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therefore, the majority of the patients
will become symptomatic very early.
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With the chronic phase,
the cells usually grow very slowly,
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and accumulate over time.
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And therefore, many of the patients have
no symptoms for a long period of time.
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Within acute and chronic are myeloid and
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which is just to say what is the cell
that originated the disease.
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For the acute leukemia, you have to
get treatment immediately because
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the disease will progress very quickly and
give you more symptoms.
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For acute myeloid leukemia, usually
we put the patient into hospital for
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about a month of treatment.
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The next few months the patient
continues to get chemotherapy.
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The treatment is a very aggressive
treatment because we want to get the cure.
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Many of them will need to stop working for
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a period of time in order
to get the treatment.
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With chronic myeloid leukemia, the cells
are also from the myeloid origin; however,
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it grows very slowly and it is functional.
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So many of the patients
have this disease for
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a long period of time
before they discover it.
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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is
a very slow-growing leukemia.
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The cell that is having
the mutation is of lymphoid origin.
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The majority of the patients
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However, symptoms can occur.
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Often we do not even give treatment in
the beginning, we just watch the patient.
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Because some of them
progress very slowly and
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the patient will not need treatment for
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When the time comes,
we can have chemotherapy or
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other biological treatments.
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We are in an exciting time in cancer
therapy because we have very good
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treatment today and
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we can offer a high rate of a long
survival from their disease.
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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia-cll-in-adults-beyond-the-basics)
What Is Chronic Myeloid Leukemia? American Cancer Society. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/chronic-myeloid-leukemia/about/what-is-cml.html)
What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia? American Cancer Society. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia/about/what-is-aml.html)
What Is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia? American Cancer Society. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia/about/what-is-all.html)
Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Signs and Symptoms. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.lls.org/leukemia/acute-myeloid-leukemia/signs-and-symptoms)