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Cancer Health Center

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Leukemia - What Happens

Your bone marrow is where stem cells grow. These stem cells become white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

In most cases of leukemia, there are too many abnormal white blood cells. These leukemia cells crowd out the normal blood cells in your bone marrow and build up in your lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.

When the leukemia cells crowd out your normal cells, your blood can't do its job. You may bleed or bruise easily, have more infections, and feel very tired.

Survival rates

Survival rates are different for each kind of leukemia. A 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who are still alive 5 years or more after being diagnosed. These numbers do not necessarily show what will happen in your case.

Estimated 5-year survival rates for types of leukemia
In this type of leukemiaThis many people survive at least 5 years

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

39 out of 100 people1

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)

From 5 to 65 out of 100 people2

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

81 out of 100 people3

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)

90 out of 100 people4

These numbers come from reports that were done at least 5 years ago, before newer treatments were available. So chances of survival today are likely to be higher than these numbers.


Leukemia can go away. People sometimes call this a "cure." But your doctor may use the term "remission" instead of "cure" when talking about the effectiveness of your treatment. Many people who have leukemia are successfully treated, but the term remission is used because cancer can return (recur). It is important to discuss the possibility of recurrence with your doctor.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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