Acute leukaemia

Acute leukaemia

What is acute leukaemia?

Acute leukaemia occurs when immature white blood cells grow and divide out of control, but never mature into normal cells. These abnormal cells are known as leukaemia cells.

Because leukaemia cells are immature and abnormal, they do not carry out the usual function of white blood cells. They also crowd out the normal white blood cells, which leads to an increased risk of infections.

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Acute leukaemia symptoms

The main signs include:

  • Anaemia – A lack of red blood cells can cause paleness, weakness, tiredness and breathlessness.
  • Repeated or persistent infections – The lack of normal white blood cells can cause mouth sores, a sore throat, fevers, sweats, coughing, boils, infected cuts or scratches, and frequent and painful passing of urine.
  • Increased bruising and bleeding – The lack of platelets can cause bruising without any kind of bump or fall, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, heavy periods in women, and small red or purple spots on the skin or mouth (petechiae).

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Acute leukaemia statistics

  • In NSW, about 910 people are diagnosed with leukaemia each year. About half of those cases are acute leukaemia.
  • Acute leukaemia accounts for about 1.1% of all cancer cases in NSW.
  • Leukaemia is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in people younger than 15.

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The aim of this information is to help you understand about acute leukaemia. We cannot advise you about the best treatment for you. You need to discuss this with your doctors. However, we hope this information will answer some of your questions and help you think about the questions you would like to ask your doctors or other health carers.