Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


Leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the formation of white blood cells in your body. It affects the blood and bone marrow, where blood cells are made. Leukaemia may be acute, appearing fast and growing quickly, or chronic, appearing gradually and growing slowly.

While the cause of leukaemia is not known in most cases, there are treatments available that can help manage the disease. Acute leukaemia can be cured. There is no cure for chronic leukaemia, but it can often be managed by lifelong treatments.

How leukaemia affects the body

If you have leukaemia, your bone marrow makes large numbers of abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal cells build up in the bone marrow and then spill out into the blood and crowd out the healthy cells. They may then spread to organs such as the liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys, and in some cases, the brain and spinal cord.

When your body doesn’t have enough healthy blood cells, this can lead to a range of problems. For example, a lack of red blood cells can cause weakness, tiredness and breathlessness. A lack of healthy white blood cells lowers your immunity to disease and infections. A lack of platelets can make it easy to bruise and bleed.

Types of leukaemia

There are four main types of leukaemia. These are named according to the type of cells affected (‘lymphoid’ if from the lymphatic system, or ‘myeloid’ if from the bone marrow), and how quickly the cancer cells grow (‘acute’ if fast; ‘chronic’ if slow).

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), also called acute lymphocytic leukaemia – the most common type of leukaemia in children, and can also affect adults.
  • Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), sometimes called acute myelocytic, myelogenous or granulocytic leukaemia – can occur at any age, although it tends to affect older people.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) – the most common type of leukaemia in adults. CLL tends to be slow-growing and may have little impact on a person’s health for months or even years.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) – tends to progress over weeks or months. CML mostly affects older adults and is rare in children.

Last reviewed: April 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 355 results

Leukaemia -

Find out about leukaemia, including the different types, symptoms, causes and treatments.

Read more on myDr website

Acute myeloid leukaemia - Cancer Pathways

For more information about these leukaemias and where to go for support and help call the Leukaemia Foundation on 1800 620 420 or visit

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma - NT.GOV.AU

Prevention, symptoms and treatment for leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Read more on NT Health website

Leukaemia - Cancer Council Australia

Find out information about leukaemia (or leukemias - U.S. spelling) from Australia's most trusted cancer control organisation.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia - Information & Support - CanTeen

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) is the most common type of leukaemia, but only develops gradually. Learn more about causes and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Leukaemia - Lab Tests Online AU

In Australia about 2,300 adults and 200 children are diagnosed each year with leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells (WBCs). While exposure to radiation, benzene, and some anticancer drugs have been shown to increase the risk of developing leukaemia, and a few cases are associated with genetic disorders or rare viral infections, the cause of most leukaemias is not known.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Leukaemia | Cancer Australia Children's Cancers

Leukaemia is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It occurs when the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells (lymphocytes), which are part of the bodys immune system to fight infections. Find out more on leukaemia, including the types, risk factors, symptoms and treatment

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Leukaemia - Information, Treatment & Support - CanTeen

Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, which are made in the bone marrow. Learn more about causes, diagnosis and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia - Information & Support - CanTeen

Acute promyelocytic leukaemia is characterised by a switching of two chromosomes within the DNA. Learn more about causes and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Leukaemia fact sheet | Cancer Australia

An overview of leukaemia including types, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment and finding support.

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo