What to know about leukemia survival rates

Children's Health
Leukemia is a broad category of cancers that affect white blood cells. The chances of survival depend on a variety of factors, including a person’s age and response to treatment.

The American Cancer Society estimate that there will be around 60,300 new cases of leukemia in the United States in 2018, resulting in 24,370 deaths.

There are many different types of leukemia. Which type a person develops depends on which white blood cells are affected, as well as some other factors.

Leukemia can prevent white blood cells from fighting infections and cause them to multiply uncontrollably. This overgrowth can cause overcrowding of the healthy blood cells, leading to severe problems throughout the body.

Leukemia can either be:

  • Acute, which is when the majority of affected white blood cells cannot function normally, causing rapid degeneration.
  • Chronic, which occurs when only some of the affected blood cells cannot function normally, causing a slower degeneration.

Survival rate by age

Leukemia survival rates are higher for people under the age of 55.

Latest figures show that the 5-year survival rate for all subtypes of leukemia is 61.4 percent.

A 5-year survival rate looks at how many people are still alive 5 years after their diagnosis.

Leukemia is most common in people aged over 55, with the median age of diagnosis being 66.

It is also one of the most common cancers for people under age 20. The survival rate is higher for younger people.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the percentage of deaths by age group are as follows:

Age group % of deaths
Under 20 2.2
20–34 2.6
35–44 2.4
45–54 5.5
55–64 12.6
65–74 23.1
75–84 30.0
>84 21.6

Factors that affect survival rate

A range of factors can affect a person’s chance of surviving leukemia.

Factors include:

  • age
  • time of diagnosis
  • progression and spread of the cancer
  • type of leukemia
  • a family history of blood conditions and leukemia
  • the extent of bone damage
  • exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene and some petrochemicals
  • exposure to certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • chromosome mutations
  • the body’s response to treatment
  • blood cell count
  • tobacco use

Can leukemia be cured?

While there is currently no cure for leukemia, it is possible to treat the cancer to prevent it coming back.

Treatment success depends on a range of factors. Treatment can include:

Treatment can last several months or even years depending on the type and severity of the condition.

Seeking support for leukemia

Woman laughing and smiling with friend and cancer patient
A person with leukemia should seek emotional support from friends and family.

Receiving a leukemia diagnosis is life-changing and challenging for both an individual and their loved ones.

It is common to feel a mixture of emotions after a cancer diagnosis, but everybody reacts differently in these situations. Some may try to put on a brave face to protect their loved ones, while others will openly seek support.

It is essential to remember that support is available for everyone from a wide range of sources, including:

A doctor: Asking questions about leukemia, its symptoms, treatment options, stages, and survival rates can help a person understand their condition.

Friends and family: Friends and family can provide intimate and emotional support. They can also help a person with everyday tasks that may become too difficult due to leukemia symptoms or treatment.

Support groups: These groups are helpful for meeting other people who can offer advice and support from their own lived experience or expertise. Support groups exist for both people with leukemia and their loved ones.

Charities: Organizations, such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, are dedicated to providing support to people with a cancer diagnosis.

There may also be local charities and online resources that can help a person understand and manage their condition.

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