Acute Leukemias

Acute leukaemia occurs when immature white blood cells (blast cells) grow out of control and continue to divide but never mature into normal cells. It develops suddenly and progresses quickly. The abnormal blast cells are known as leukaemia cells. Because they are immature and abnormal, the leukaemia cells do not carry out the usual function of white blood cells. They also crowd out the normal white blood cells, preventing them from working properly, which leads to an increased risk of infections. When the bone marrow fills with leukaemia cells, there is little room for healthy red cells and platelets to be produced. This causes a variety of health problems.

Types of acute leukaemia

There are two main types of acute leukaemia, depending on what type of white blood cell is involved:

  • acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) – a leukaemia involving myeloid blast cells, also called myeloblasts.

  • acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) – a leukaemia involving lymphoid blast cells, which are known as lymphoblasts. ALL is also sometimes called acute lymphatic leukaemia.

Children with acute leukaemia
Children with acute leukaemia have the same types of tests and treatments as adults. Many of the side effects and emotional issues surrounding body image will be similar. This information booklet applies to children, but as no two cases of acute leukaemia are the same, you will need to discuss your child’s case in detail with their doctors.