Leukemia | Cancer



You have access to the most advanced treatments in our nationally recognized cancer center. Our team provides expert care with a compassionate approach.

Medically reviewed by Primo Lara, M.D. on Dec. 19, 2023.

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Expertise for Leukemia Care

You receive world-class care for all types of leukemia at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Our Leukemia, Lymphoma and Multiple Myeloma Program is the largest and most comprehensive center in the region. We are a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a designation that speaks to our expert team and leading-edge treatments. Only 1% of cancer centers in the nation have this designation.


Types of Leukemia

Leukemia is a term for several cancers affecting your blood and bone marrow. Bone marrow is spongy tissue inside your bones that makes blood cells.

The two most common types of leukemia include:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Less common types of leukemia include:

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)

Leukemia types are based on the cells affected by the cancer and how quickly the cancer grows. Acute leukemias grow and spread more rapidly than chronic leukemias. ALL and AML are the two most common leukemias in children, and AML and CLL are the most common types in adults. 


Leukemia Symptoms

Leukemia symptoms depend on the type of leukemia and where the leukemia cells collect. Other factors, such as your age and other health conditions, can also affect your symptoms.

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or your child, it doesn’t mean you have leukemia. However, it’s important to see your provider as soon as possible to determine the cause.

Common Symptoms 

The most common signs and symptoms of leukemia include: 

  • Abdominal (belly) swelling or fullness 
  • Bleeding gums 
  • Bruising easily 
  • Fatigue or weakness 
  • Fevers or frequent illnesses 
  • Heavy menstrual periods 
  • Pain in your bones or joints 
  • Petechiae (tiny, red spots under your skin) 
  • Purpura (black, purple or red patches on your skin) 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Weight loss without trying 

Leukemia Causes and Risk Factors

Leukemia occurs when one of your bone marrow cells mutates (changes into an abnormal cell). This mutated cell divides and forms more mutated cells. Eventually, these abnormal cells outnumber your normal, healthy cells.

Experts do not yet know why these cell mutations occur. A combination of factors, including genetics and environment, may play a role.

Some factors that may increase your risk of leukemia include: 

Benzene Exposure

A high level of benzene exposure can raise your risk of leukemia. People may be exposed to benzene through household chemicals, factories, vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke.

Blood Disorders

People with other types of blood disorders, including myelodysplastic syndrome, are more likely to develop leukemia.


If you have had chemotherapy in the past, your risk of leukemia is slightly higher. However, chemotherapy is a lifesaving treatment for many types of cancer.

Genetic Conditions

There is a higher risk of ALL and AML in people with Bloom syndrome, Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.


Being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus or T-cell leukemia virus may increase your risk of developing ALL.

Radiation Exposure

If you are repeatedly exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation, you have a higher risk of getting leukemia. Some sources of ionizing radiation include X-rays, CT scans and nuclear medicine procedures.


Diagnosis and Testing for Leukemia

Our team provides a thorough workup to diagnose or rule out leukemia. We listen to your concerns and perform a physical exam. In some cases, we may order blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy.

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center offers the latest diagnostic tests including molecular genetic studies, which identify genes and proteins in leukemia cells. With this information, we can tailor your treatment for the best possible outcome.

Leukemia Treatments at UC Davis Health

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, our experts have decades of experience treating all types of leukemia. You have access to the most advanced treatments available, including the latest clinical trials.

You receive care from multiple specialists who work together to find the best therapies for your unique needs. We personalize your treatment to your genetics, age and lifestyle. We support your physical and emotional health at every step.

Your treatment options may include: 


Our Division of Hematology and Oncology and Division of Malignant Hematology/Cellular Therapy and Transplantation offer the latest and most effective chemotherapy medications for every leukemia type. Our specialists use their knowledge and experience to create a medication regimen that will work best for you.


Immunotherapy is a breakthrough in cancer treatment that teaches your immune system to attack leukemia cells. Our specialists use advanced genetic testing to personalize your immunotherapy medication for maximum effectiveness.

Radiation Therapy

Experts in our Department of Radiation Oncology helped pioneer radiation therapy techniques that have changed cancer outcomes for the better. We use advanced treatments that target cancer cells while minimizing effects on healthy tissue.

Stem Cell Transplant

Our Stem Cell Transplant Program, which is part of the Division of Malignant Hematology/Cellular Therapy and Transplantation, is among the most experienced and respected in the region. We provide a complete range of transplant options to treat acute and chronic leukemias.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy stops the growth of only leukemia cells rather than all fast-growing cells. Our skilled cancer team offers a variety of targeted therapies that we personalize for you, including the newest medications in clinical trials.

Watchful Waiting

If you have chronic (slow-growing) leukemia, you may be able to delay treatment. Our team will answer your questions and closely monitor you for symptoms. We’re ready to help if and when you decide to start treatment.

“Leukemia” National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560490/ 

Types of leukemia

AMLIs one of the most common types in adults

On average, people are

68Years old when first diagnosed with AML

Source: American Cancer Society: Key Statistics for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



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