Leukemia is a cancer of bone marrow tissue––the tissue that is responsible for producing new blood cells.

There are three main types of blood cells:

  • Red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body from the lungs.
  • Platlets. Platlets prevent bleeding.
  • White blood cells. White blood cells fight infection.

When a person has cancer, abnormal leukemia cells replace normal bone marrow tissue.

Leukemia falls into two major subtypes:

  • Acute leukemia. If you have acute leukemia, these abnormal cells collect in the blood and normal white blood cells cannot do their work of fighting disease and infection. This type of leukemia usually develops quickly and requires inpatient hospital treatment.
  • Chronic leukemia. Chronic leukemia is an increase of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the blood and crowd out normal blood cells. This type of leukemia usually develops slowly and can be treated on an outpatient basis.

Most people learn they have leukemia when blood work indicates a problem. Less often, leukemia is discovered after a patient complains of symptoms, such as:

  • Bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

At Indiana University Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center, our physicians are experienced in treating all types of leukemia. We guide you through treatment options so you can make informed decisions on the care that best aligns with your goals.

Our high volume of leukemia patients means we are familiar with the challenges you face. In addition to traditional treatment options, we offer CompleteLife Program, which provides arts-based therapy to help patients deal with cancer. 

Leukemia Treatment

Your team of specialists will develop a plan of care suited to your goals of achieving remission, overcoming the disease, and/or focusing on quality of life.

Treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy. Most patients with leukemia will require chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses strong medicine to kill the abnormal leukemia cells so healthy cells can flourish. Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you may receive chemotherapy in the hospital, at a clinic, in your doctor’s office or at home.
  • Bone marrow transplant. During a bone marrow transplant, the bone marrow (a liquid tissue inside your bones), is removed and replaced with healthy bone marrow from a donor or from your own noncancerous tissue. Bone marrow transplants are used after chemotherapy to replace any bone marrow lost during cancer treatment.

Leukemia Research

Through our partnership with the Indiana University School of Medicine, we provide access to research trials and the latest innovative drug treatments.

Our physicians are actively involved in research to identify why many patients with leukemia do not experience remission. Our research involves studying leukemia cells in the laboratory and developing innovative combinations of chemotherapy to improve the outcome of treatment. Our physicians have led large national and international leukemia trials and continue to serve on various advisory boards to establish treatment guidelines for leukemia.