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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

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.

Line graphs of U.S. Leukemia Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010. In 2010, whites have the highest incidence, followed Hispanics, African Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians/Alaska Natives.  In 2010, whites have the highest mortality, followed by African Americans, American Indians/Alaska natives, Hispanics, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Leukemia

Selected Advances in Leukemia Research

Pie chart of NCI Leukemia Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 25%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 12%.  Prevention, 3%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 6%.  Treatment, 42%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 7%.  Scientific model systems, 5%.
  • 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).

Bar graph depicting NCI Leukemia Research Investment between 2008-2012: Fiscal year 2008, $216.4 million Leukemia Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. Fiscal Year 2009, $220.6 million Leukemia Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. Fiscal Year 2010, $239.7 million Leukemia Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget.  Fiscal year 2011, $227.0 million Leukemia Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget.  Fiscal year 2012, $234.7 million Leukemia Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Leukemia


  • 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.

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