Leukemia Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

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Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. As of 2019, more than 470,000 Americans have a history of leukemia. It was estimated that about 60,000 people would be diagnosed with leukemia in 2022.

The five-year relative survival rate of leukemia is 65.7%. New diagnosis rates have been declining 0.7% each year, while death rates have been declining 1.9% each year from 2010 to 2019.

This article will highlight important facts and statistics you should know about leukemia. 

Young woman being treated for leukemia walks with her father

Fly View Productions / Getty Images

Leukemia Overview


There are multiple types of leukemia. They fall into two general categories of acute (developing suddenly and are short-lived) and chronic (developing over a long period of time and are long term). Leukemia is further classified into other types that are named for the type of cell that becomes malignant. The types of leukemia include:

How Common Is Leukemia?

Leukemia is the eleventh most common cancer in the United States. Although children can get leukemia, it is most often diagnosed in adults.

In 2015–2019, an average of 18 men out of 100,000 were diagnosed with leukemia each year, and an average of 11 women out of 100,000 were diagnosed with the disease each year.

New cases of leukemia have been declining at a rate of 0.7% each year since 2010.

Leukemia by Ethnicity and Sex 

Leukemia occurs across all ethnicities. Non-Hispanic White people are more often diagnosed with it than people of other ethnicities.

New Cases of Leukemia per 100,000 People per Year, 2015–2019
 Ethnicity Male  Female
 All 18.0 11.0
 White (non-Hispanic) 19.8 11.8
 Black (non-Hispanic) 13.8 9.2
Asian/Pacific Islander (non-Hispanic) 10.3 6.5
 Native American (non-Hispanic) 15.5 9.3
 Hispanic 13.3 9.2

Leukemia by Age

Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer, but it still is rare. The most common type of leukemia in children is acute lymphocytic leukemia, followed by acute myeloid leukemia. Of children under age 15, 5.3 out of 100,000 were diagnosed with leukemia in 2019.

The median age at diagnosis is 67 years old. Males are more likely than females to be diagnosed with leukemia, and adults are more likely to be diagnosed than children. The chart reviews the percentage of cases of leukemia by age groups.

Cases of Leukemia by Age Group
 Age Leukemia Cases Overall AML ALL CLL CML
 Under 20 8.2% 4.5% 53.9% 0% 2.1%
 20–34 4.4% 5.4% 11.2% 0.4% 7.4%
 35–44 4.5% 5.2% 6.2% 2% 8.2%
 45–54 9% 8.8% 6.9% 9.5% 12.2%
 55–64 18.2% 16.8% 8.4% 24.7% 18.2%
 65–74 24.8% 26% 7.6% 31.6% 22.1%
 75–84 20.6% 22.9% 4.2% 21.5% 20.2%
 Over 84 10.4% 10.5% 1.7% 10.3% 9.5%

Causes of Leukemia and Risk Factors

Leukemia starts when the DNA (hereditary material) inside a bone marrow cell becomes abnormal, resulting in the development of more abnormal cells. What exactly causes the change in DNA is unknown.

Although the exact cause of leukemia isn't known, there are some risk factors that have been associated with the development of this cancer.

Leukemia Risk Factors
Possible Risk Factors  AML ALL CLL CML
Smoking  Yes      
Benzene exposure  Yes  Yes    
Agent Orange exposure      Yes  
Radiation exposure Yes Yes Yes
Family history Yes Yes
Male sex Yes Yes Yes Yes
History of chemotherapy Yes Yes

What Are the Mortality Rates for Leukemia?

Leukemia is the seventh leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The good news is that the age-adjusted death rate for leukemia dropped an average of 1.9% per year over the decade from 2010 to 2019.

Death from leukemia is most common in people 65 and older, with the median age of 75. The risk of death from leukemia increases with age:

Age of Death from Leukemia
Age  % of Leukemia Deaths
Under 20  2%
20–34  2.4%
35–44 2.3%
45–54 4.8%
55–64 12.1%
65–74 23.9%
75–84 30%
Over 84 22.6%

For leukemia overall, the five-year survival rate is almost 66%. The survival rate is about the same among people of any sex. The five-year survival rate in children less than 15 years old is 88%.

What Is "Survival Rate"?

"Survival rate" is a term for the percentage of people with a condition who survive over a stated time period from the time of their diagnosis. With cancer (such as leukemia) it is often reported in a five-year period. As it averages people diagnosed at least five years previously, it does not account for the effects of newer types of treatment.

It is not an individual prognosis (prospect of recovery), which a healthcare provider would make in consideration of the person's age, cancer stage, their overall health, and other factors.

Screening and Early Detection

There are currently no screening tests for leukemia. It is often found when symptoms of the disease are present, and tests are done to investigate the symptoms. It may also be found when routine lab work is done for general health purposes.

A common blood test that can raise suspicions of leukemia is a complete blood count (CBC). This blood test measures and categorizes cells in the blood, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Too many, too few, or immature types of these cells in the blood can prompt further tests for leukemia.

One way to help detect leukemia early is to get regular checkups with your healthcare provider and report any abnormal signs or symptoms that you may be experiencing. Symptoms of leukemia can include:

  • Unexplained fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Feeling tired

Summary

Leukemia is a blood cancer that can be diagnosed in both children and adults but is most commonly diagnosed in people 65 and over. Although childhood leukemia is rare, it is the most common cancer in children. There are multiple types of leukemia, classified as either acute or chronic and named for the type of cell that becomes malignant.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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