leukaemia and
blood cancers

Blood contains three types of blood cells: white cells fight infection, red cells carry oxygen and platelets help the blood to clot. Every day, billions of new blood cells are produced in the bone marrow – most of them red cells.

What is blood cancer?

Blood cancer is the general name used to describe all cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. Most blood cancers begin in the bone marrow, where many different blood cells are made: the type of blood cancer is identified and named by the type of blood cell that is affected.

There are 137 different types of blood cancer. Each type of blood cancer has an individual name and may require a different approach to treatment. The 137 types of blood cancer are classified into three main groups:

  • Leukaemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Myeloma

In 2013 there were over 30,000 cases of blood cancer in the UK, making it the fifth most common cancer.

What is leukaemia?

Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. In people with leukaemia the body starts producing more white cells than it needs, many of which are abnormal. As the abnormal white cells accumulate, they interfere with the production of normal healthy blood cells, causing anaemia and susceptibility to infection.

26 new cases of leukaemia are diagnosed every day in the UK, that is more than 1 person every hour.

There are four main types of leukaemia:
  • Chronic myeloid (CML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic (CLL)
  • Acute myeloid (AML)
  • Acute lymphoblastic (ALL)

Leukaemia is named according to the type of white blood cell involved – there are two main types of white blood cell, myeloid or lymphoid. In addition leukaemia is classified as either acute or chronic disease. Acute leukaemia occurs suddenly, progresses rapidly and requires urgent treatment. In contrast chronic leukaemia develops more slowly and treatment may not be required until symptoms develop.

Worldwide, in 2012 around 352,000 people were estimated to have been diagnosed with leukaemia and more than 265,000 people died from the disease.

There were 4,584 deaths from leukaemia in the UK (2014) – more than 12 people every day.

Who is affected by leukaemia?

People of any age, gender and ethnicity can develop leukaemia. Whilst the highest incidence of leukaemia is observed in older adults, leukaemia is the most common of all the cancers diagnosed in children. Leukaemia is more prevalent in white and black males than in Asian males and more common in white females compared to Asian or black females.

The average age at diagnosis with leukaemia in the UK is 71 years.

Leukaemia is the most common childhood cancer- about 33% of all cases of cancer in those under 14 years of age.

Survival from leukaemia

Over the past years, the survival rates from leukaemia have improved. Scientific research is leading to a better understanding of leukaemia, together with improvements in treatment and care have helped to lower the number of deaths from leukaemia. However, far too many patients still die from leukaemia; in particular older people continue to have very poor survival rates.

Leukaemia 10-year survival rates have quadrupled since the early 1970’s.

57% of leukaemia deaths in the UK each year are in people aged 75 and over.

5 year survival from leukaemia in England, 2009-2013 is 50.1 % for men and 49.4 % for women.

If you require more information about leukaemia, symptoms, treatments and patient care in the NHS, please visit the NHS website.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and glands/nodes spread throughout the body and plays a vital role in the immune system. The network of vessels carries a clear fluid called lymph that contains the infection fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes.

In lymphoma, the lymphocytes start to multiply in an abnormal way and begin to collect in the lymphatic system. The abnormal lymphocytes can collect in any part of the body but often accumulate in lymph nodes causing swellings in the neck, armpits or groin. The affected lymphocytes lose their infection-fighting properties, resulting in vulnerability to infection.

In 2014, there were over 5000 deaths in the UK from lymphoma- that is 14 people every day.

Worldwide, in 2013 over 450,000 people were diagnosed with lymphoma.

There are two main types of lymphoma:
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Hodgkin lymphoma

The two types are classified as different diseases, they are very similar in many ways but the treatment for them is not the same.

More than 85% of cases of lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphoma (2013).

Who is affected by lymphoma?

Lymphoma can occur at any age although most people diagnosed are between the ages of 15 and 34 or over 60. It affects slightly more males than it does females.

If you require more information about lymphoma, symptoms, treatments and patient care in the NHS, please visit the NHS website.

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer arising from a specific type of white blood cell called plasma cells. Plasma cells are made in the bone marrow. Myeloma develops where there is active bone marrow; common sites are bones of the spine, pelvis, rib cage and skull. Myeloma is often called multiple myeloma because it can occur in several places.

In the UK in 2013, there were 5,500 new cases of myeloma- that is 15 cases diagnosed every day.

There were 2928 deaths in the UK from myeloma in the UK (2014) – more than 56 people every week.

Plasma cells are an important part of the immune system; they make proteins called antibodies, which help fight infection. In myeloma, the plasma cells become abnormal, multiply uncontrollably and crowd the bone marrow. The resulting overcrowding means there is not sufficient space for making the normal white cells, red cells and platelets. Abnormal plasma cells produce a type of abnormal antibody known as paraprotein, which has no useful function and is not able to fight infections. The measurement of the presence of paraprotein is often used to diagnose myeloma and monitor disease progression.

Who is affected by myeloma?

The risk of myeloma increases with age and mainly occurs in people over 65 years. It is rare in people under 40. It is almost twice as common in black populations compared to white and Asian populations and is more common in men than in women.

Around 59% myeloma cases in the UK each year are diagnosed in people aged 70 and over (2011-2013).

If you require more information about myeloma, symptoms, treatments and patient care in the NHS, please visit the NHS website.

Sources Used
1 Cancer Research UK,, accessed October 2016.
2 HMRN., Accessed October 2016.
3 National Registry of Childhood Tumours. Progress Report, 2012 (NCIN)
4 The Office for National Statistics: Statistical bulletin Cancer Survival in England- Adults Diagnosed: 2009 to 2013, followed up to 2014. Released-19 November 2015.