A Snapshot of Leukemia
Incidence and Mortality
Leukemia, the most common blood cancer, includes several diseases. The four major types are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Although approximately 10 times more adults than children have leukemia, it is the most common cancer among children, with ALL accounting for approximately 75 percent of all childhood leukemias. The most common types of leukemia in adults are AML and CLL, followed by CML and ALL.
The overall incidence rates for leukemia have increased slightly every year since 1975, while overall mortality rates have fallen since 1991. Incidence and mortality rates are higher in whites than in people of other racial/ethnic groups. Men are more likely to develop leukemia than are women.
Risk factors for leukemia include smoking, exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene, exposure to radiation, past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, having certain inherited diseases or blood disorders, and family history. There are no standard screening tests for leukemia. Depending on the type of leukemia, standard treatments include watchful waiting, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, donor lymphocyte infusion, and chemotherapy with stem cell transplant..
It is estimated that approximately $5.4 billion1 is spent in the United States each year on leukemia treatment.
Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Leukemia
- NCI's Familial Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia program is studying families with multiple cases of CLL to find the gene or genes that cause CLL in these families, determine whether families prone to CLL are at greater risk for other kinds of leukemia or cancer, and identify markers of risk in family members.
- The Lymphoma/Leukemia Molecular Profiling Project is examining the gene expression profiles of lymphoid malignancies to refine their classification. Another goal is to use gene expression data for prognosis and to select treatment.
- The Childhood Leukemia International Consortium coordinates collaborative research on the role of infectious, environmental, and genetic risk factors in the etiology of childhood leukemia. The Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research Consortium is a multi-institutional project that coordinates research on understanding the origins of CLL and identifying new treatments for patients with CLL.
- The Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network conducts large multi-institutional clinical trials that address important issues in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation to improve outcomes for patients with leukemia.
- NCI's Biomarker, Imaging and Quality of Life Studies Funding Program supports several leukemia biomarker studies.
- The Special Translational Research Acceleration Projects (STRAP) initiative provides supplemental funding to move basic science discoveries to the point of early clinical trial testing. One project is exploring methods to improve the function of modified T cells to treat patients with persistent leukemia after chemotherapy.
- Three leukemia-specific Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) are identifying novel targets for leukemia therapy, causes of resistance to chemotherapy, and genetic risk factors for CLL and AML.
Selected Advances in Leukemia Research
- Most mutations in AML genomes were acquired prior to the cancer-initiating mutation. Published July 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
- In a phase I trial, the experimental drug ponatinib showed promising activity in patients with tyrosine kinase inhibitor-resistant CML or ALL. Published November 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
- Researchers demonstrated that T cells engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors that target a particular region of the CD22 protein on the surface of leukemia cells have anti-leukemic activity and are promising novel therapeutics for B-cell precursor ALL. Published December 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
- Researchers have characterized the genomic and epigenomic alterations in 200 AML tumors, findings that may lead to new drug targets and treatment strategies for this disease. Published May 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to leukemia. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.
Trends in NCI Funding for Leukemia Research
The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in leukemia research increased from $216.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $234.7 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $53.1 million in leukemia research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).3
Additional Resources for Leukemia
- What You Need To Know About™ Leukemia
Describes possible risks, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for someone recently diagnosed with leukemia.
- Leukemia Home Page
NCI's gateway for information about leukemia.
- Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
- Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of adult acute myeloid leukemia.
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia.
- Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of hairy cell leukemia.
- Clinical Trials for Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
- Clinical Trials for Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- Clinical Trials for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Clinical Trials for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
- Clinical Trials for Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment
- 1 Cancer Trends Progress Report, in 2010 dollars.
- 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.
- 3 For more information regarding ARRA funding at NCI, see Recovery Act Funding at NCI.