Understanding Leukemia and Lymphoma

September is Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month. Leukemia and lymphoma are cancers in the blood and lymphatic system, respectively. Unfamiliar cancers of this type generally are overlooked when compared with other cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. Yet, a type of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is the fifth leading cancer diagnosed in men and women. Leukemia is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in men. An estimated 44,000 new cases of leukemia and more than 71,000 new cases of lymphoma will be diagnosed this year alone.

Leukemia is a cancer that affects the white blood cells (cells that help fend off infections in your body). Bone marrow is the spongy tissue within the center of bones that produces red blood cells (RBC), platelets and white blood cells (WBC). Leukemia causes the bone marrow to produce abnormal WBCs, which over time crowd out normal cells. Like other cancers, the abnormal growth disables WBCs to carryout normal functions. Since WBCs help fight infections, leukemia patients are more likely to have infections that their body may not be able to fight.

Leukemia is grouped into four different disease types.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common leukemia and affects more men than women and those that are at least 50 years old.


  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is caused by a genetic anomaly and, unfortunately, has a poor response to traditional treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy (cancer treatment designed to stimulate the immune system).


  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of leukemia in children under age 15. Risk also increases in people ages 45 and older.


  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common form of adult leukemias. Usually occurring on average at 65 years old and older. Interestingly, 20 percent of all AML diagnosed is attributed to cigarette smoking.*


Lymphomas are abnormal cells that grow within the lymphatic tissue such as the lymph nodes and other organs that help fight infection. There are two distinct lymphomas: Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma, named after a physician—Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), usually is diagnosed in young adults in their 20s or 30s. Due to the advances in treatment, death rates have dropped 60 percent compared to those reported just 30 years ago.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) incidence rates have doubled since the early 1970s. While the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the increase, in part, is due to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) related NHL, for the most part the rise is unexplained.

Due to advances in treatment and research, leukemia and lymphomas are better understood today than they were in the1960s. Founded in 1964, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) has launched aggressive research with the help of major fundraising campaigns. Through Team in Training, the world’s largest endurance sports training program, and the Light the Night® Walk, the LLS has provided more than $486 million dollars in research funding.

Knoxville’s 2007 Light the Night® Walk will be held at Volunteer Landing Thursday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. Please join UT Medical Center for a non-competitive evening walk to celebrate and commemorate lives touched by cancer. The walk is unique because participants carry illuminated balloons to light the way—red for supporters and white for cancer survivors. Please visit Light the Night® Walk to learn more about the event.

To learn more about leukemia, lymphoma or other blood cancers, please visit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society online.

American Cancer Society
*Center for Disease Control
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society