The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Leukemia

There are two main classifications of leukemia

Acute lymphatic leukemia
Acute lymphatic leukemia. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you have been diagnosed with leukemia you should know the difference between acute and chronic leukemia, two different classifications of the disease.

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Many types of leukemia exist. Some forms of leukemia are more common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults.

Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don't function properly.

Treatment for leukemia can be complex — depending on the type of leukemia and other factors. But there are strategies and resources that can help to make your treatment successful.

Symptoms of Leukemia

Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. Common leukemia signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Persistent fatigue, weakness
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night
  • Bone pain or tenderness

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

Leukemia symptoms are often vague and not specific. You may overlook early leukemia symptoms because they may resemble symptoms of the flu and other common illnesses.

How Leukemia Forms

In general, leukemia is thought to occur when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA — the instructions inside each cell that guide its action.

There may be other changes in the cells that have yet to be fully understood could contribute to leukemia.

Certain abnormalities cause the cell to grow and divide more rapidly and to continue living when normal cells would die. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, causing the signs and symptoms of leukemia.

What is Chronic Leukemia?

In chronic leukemia, the leukemia cells come from mature, abnormal cells. The cells thrive for too long and accumulate.The cells grow slowly.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). With CLL, the most common chronic adult leukemia, you may feel well for years without needing treatment.
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). This type of leukemia mainly affects adults. A person with CML may have few or no symptoms for months or years before entering a phase in which the leukemia cells grow more quickly.

What is Acute Leukemia?

Acute leukemia,on the other hand, develop from early cells, called "blasts".

Blasts are young cells, that divide frequently. In acute leukemia cells, they don't stop dividing like their normal counterparts do.

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). This is the most common type of leukemia in young children. ALL can also occur in adults.
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). AML is a common type of leukemia. It occurs in children and adults. AML is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults.


Mayo Clinic. Leukemia.

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