Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells produced in the bone marrow.

What is a cancerous cell?

Cells make up all the tissues and organs in the human body. Within cells are genetic material (DNA), which tell the cells what to do. DNA sends messages to cells, telling them when to divide and when to die. Cancer occurs when DNA gives incorrect instructions to a cell. In a cancerous cell, the DNA is damaged. These cells grow uncontrollably, divide when they shouldn’t and live longer than they should.

What is Bone Marrow?

Bone marrow is located in the centre of the bones and creates blood cells. There are three types of blood cells produced in the bone marrow: 1) red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the body; 2) white blood cells, which fight infection; 3) platelets, which help stop bleeding.

Types of Leukemia

  • ACUTE LYMPHOBLASTIC LEUKEMIA (ALL) involves the blood-forming cells that normally make a type of white blood cell named lymphocytes. When a single young blood-forming cell mutates, it transforms into a leukemia cell, which multiplies uncontrollably and crowds out healthy cells in the bone marrow. There are different types of ALL and knowing the type of ALL is an important in determining the treatment plan. The most common type of ALL is called precursor-B and it affects a-cell lymphocytes as they are developing. Another type of ALL affects the development of T-cell lymphocytes.

  • ACUTE MYELOID LEUKEMIA (AML) involves the blood-forming cells called myeloid cells. These cells include certain types of white blood cells called granulocytes and monocytes, as well as red blood cells and platelets. AML begins when a single young blood-forming cell develops a series of mistakes or mutations that transform it into a leukemia cell, which then multiples uncontrollably. There are many different subtypes of AML, including myeloblastic, promyelocytic and monocytic leukemia.

  • CHRONIC MYELOID LEUKEMIA (CML) is a cancer that grows slowly. CML beings when a blood-forming cell develops a change in its genetic code. This abnormality, called the Philadelphia chromosome, tells the cell to multiply uncontrollably, generating large numbers of abnormal white blood cells.

  • JUVENILE MYELOMONCYTIC LEUKEMIA (JMML) is rare and usually occurs in very young children. A type of white blood cell, called an immature monocyte, is overproduced by the bone marrow. These cells crowd out healthy cells, often causing fatigue, bleeding and other symptoms.

How Is Leukemia Treated?

Each child and cancer is treated differently. Oncologists and specialists work with the parents to create a specific treatment plan for each child. Variants that may play a role in a child’s treatment plan may include type (and subtype) of leukemia, prognostic factors, risk level, changes within the leukemia cells, child’s age and overall health.

Treatment options MAY* include one or more of the following

  • Chemotherapy – medicines that destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. There are several types of chemotherapy, which stop the growth of cells or destroy these cells in different ways.
  • Radiation therapy – delivered either externally or internally, this form of therapy involves administering high energy beams to the patient to damage the DNA and destroy rapidly growing cells. It is delivered to a specific part of the body, as opposed to the whole body,  which is the case in chemotherapy.
  • Other treatments may include a stem cell transplant, targeted therapy and supportive therapy.


  • Leukemia accounts for almost one out of three cancers in children.
  • ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer.
  • About four out of every five children with leukemia will have ALL.
  • About one out of every five children with leukemia will have AML.
  • Only about one out of every 50 children who have leukemia will have CMC.
  • Less than one in 100 children with leukemia will have JMML.

If your family or someone you know is facing childhood cancer, please call us at 403 216 9210 or email us to learn more about our free programs and services.