Leukemia: What Is It, Types and Different Staging of Leukemia


Leukemia is a blood cell cancer. Unlike many other types of cancer, leukemia does not produce tumors and is present in blood and bone marrow. It happens when your body makes too much white blood cells. White Blood Cells (WBCs) are an essential part of the immune system. They are the body’s defense against infections caused by bacteria and viruses, fungi, abnormal cells, and other foreign substances. These WBCs divide rapidly that restrict the formation of other important cells, and eventually crowd out normal cells.  Generally, leukemia is the cancer of the WBCs. 


The beginning of leukemia can be acute or sudden or chronic or slow onset. In acute leukemia, cancer cells multiply rapidly while in chronic leukemia, the disease progresses slowly, and initial symptoms are mild.  

Leukemia is classified according to the type of cell that its affect, whether myeloid cell (myeloid leukemia) or lymphocytes (lymphocytic leukemia). 

There are 4 main types of leukemia: 

Acute Myeloid  

Leukemia (AML)

Chronic Myeloid  

Leukemia (CML)

Acute Lymphocytic  Leukemia (ALL) Chronic Lymphocytic  Leukemia (CLL)

– occurs both in children  and adult 

– cancerous WBCs  rapidly-produce while  normal cells are  continuously produced 

– begins in your bone  marrow 

most common type of  leukemia

– most common in adults 

– also starts in the bone  marrow but progress  rapidly than AML

– most common in children 

– quickly progressing  form that causes  healthy cells to turn  into cancerous WBCs

– diagnosed mostly in  adults 55 years of age 

– same with ALL but less  rapid


Once diagnosed, leukemia will be staged. Staging determines how much the cancer cells have already progressed and helps the doctor to come up with the treatment plan.  

Acute types of leukemia are staged based on how cancer cells look under a microscope and the types of cells involved. Lymphocytic leukemia, both acute and chronic, are staged based on the WBC count at the event of diagnosis. 

Myeloid leukemia, both acute and chronic, are staged based on WBCs or myeloblasts in the blood and bone marrow.

Read more: What Are The Types And Symptoms Of Blood Cancer?


This type of leukemia affects both children and adults. 

Childhood ALL Stages 

Low risk  High risk

– Children under 10 

– WBC count of less than 50,000

– Children >10 years old 

– WBC count of more than 50,000

Adult ALL Stage 

Untreated  Remission  Recurrent

– Newly diagnosed 

– “untreated” simply  means recent

– Occurs after receiving  cancer treatments 

– 5% or less of the bone  marrow cells in your body is cancerous 

– WBC within normal  limits 

– Doesn’t have any  symptoms

– Occurs when leukemia  returns after remission 

– More tests and  treatment must be continued


AML occurs both in children and adults although children have a higher rate of survival than adults. 

Doctors doesn’t usually stage AML; instead, they are divided into 9 subtypes using the French-American-British  (FAB) system. Subtypes are determined by the maturity of leukemia cells and their site of diagnosis. 

M0: undifferentiated acute myeloblastic  leukemia 

M1: acute myeloblastic leukemia with minimal  maturation 

M2: acute myeloblastic leukemia with  maturation 

M3: acute promyelocytic leukemia 

M4: acute myelomonocytic leukemia 

M4 eos: acute myelomonocytic leukemia with  eosinophilia 

M5: acute monocytic leukemia 

M6: acute erythroid leukemia 

M7: acute megakaryoblastic leukemia 

These subtypes are based on where leukemia began. Subtypes M0 through M5 begin in the WBCs.  Subtype M6 starts in RBCs, and stage M7 starts in the platelets. 

Read more: Cervical Cancer: What is it, Symptoms, Stages, Treatment, And More


CLL is a slow-growing type of leukemia found in mature WBCs and is staged similarly to other cancers than to either ALL or CML. It uses the Rai staging system. Rai staging system is based on 3 factors such as the number of cancerous WBCs in the body, the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets, and wor not the lymph nodes, spleen, or liver is enlarged. 

CLL Stage 0 

(Low risk)

CLL Stage I 



CLL Stage II 



CLL Stage III 

(High risk)

CLL Stage IV 

(High risk)

– more than  10,000 lymphocytes 

– other blood  counts are normal -no symptoms

– more than  10,000 lymphocytes 

– lymph nodes are swollen 

– other blood  counts are still  normal

– liver and spleen  are enlarged 

– lymph nodes are  swollen 

– lymphocyte  counts are high  but other blood  counts are still  normal

– other blood cells  are now affected – anemic and does not have enough  RBCs 

– lymphocyte  counts are high 

– liver and spleen  are enlarged 

– lymph nodes are  swollen

– all symptoms of the previous stages are present

– platelets and  RBCs are affected

– blood clotting is not functioning


In CML, cancer progresses slowly but your bone marrow produces high numbers of WBCs called blast cells. Blast cells will outnumber healthy blood cells. Staging CML will be based on the percentage of WBCs in your body. 

Chronic phase  Accelerated phase  Blastic phase
<10% of blast cells in the body – fatigue, milder symptoms – responds well to treatment 10-19% blast cells in the body – cancer doesn’t respond to  treatment in the chronic phase – more symptoms appear

>20% blast cells spread all  throughout the body 

– treatment is difficult 

– symptoms include fever,  fatigue, poor appetite, weight  loss, and swelling of spleen


Cancer staging helps physicians figure out the best treatment regimen specific to a patient. Leukemia,  unlike any organ cancer, is staged differently because it shows up in the blood instead of tumors. 

High chances of survival are associated with early detection and diagnosis, while a more advanced stage that is diagnosed late means lower survival rate. 

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