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San Cancer Services

Leukaemia / blood cancer

What is leukaemia?

Originating in the bone marrow, leukaemia is a type of blood cancer which affects the body's blood-forming tissues. The bone marrow's ability to produce red blood cells and platelets is impaired by the uncontrolled production of abnormal white blood cells.

Leukaemia can be acute (progresses rapidly) or chronic (develops more slowly) with four main types identified:

  • acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
  • acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
  • chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
  • chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

Common symptoms of leukaemia include bruising easily or bleeding, fatigue, persistent infections or swollen lymph nodes. Some blood cancer patients experience bone and joint pain while headaches, vision problems and weight loss may also be linked to the condition.

While the exact cause of leukaemia is unknown, some factors which are thought to increase the risk of blood cancer include:

  • Genetic predisposition: Down syndrome or family history
  • Radiation exposure: from occupational exposure, nuclear accidents, medical treatments
  • Chemical exposure: industrial chemicals such as benzene
  • Viruses: T-cell leukaemia virus or Epstein-Barr virus
  • Immune system disorders: HIV/AIDS

Although the above risk factors may play a role, people with no risk factors can still be diagnosed with blood cancer. Regular medical check-ups can assist with early detection of leukaemia and lead to improved patient outcomes.

Diagnosing leukaemia

Diagnosing leukaemia involves a combination of a physical examination, a review of the patient's medical history and laboratory tests. Often initial symptoms, such as fatigue, abnormal bleeding or infections may prompt a physician to order blood tests to assess blood cells. A complete blood count (CBC) may reveal abnormalities such as an elevated white blood cell count (leucocytosis), anaemia, or a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia).

If abnormalities are detected, the next stage may involve a bone marrow biopsy which analyses the marrow and can identify leukaemia cells. Further testing is undertaken to determine the specific characteristics of the leukaemia to help guide treatment decisions. There may also be the need for imaging studies such as CT scans to identify any impact of the blood cancer on the body’s organs.

A multidisciplinary team will be formed including haematologists, pathologists, and blood cancer oncologists to assist with preparing a comprehensive diagnosis and to tailor a treatment plan to the individual’s specific condition. Regular monitoring will be undertaken by the team to assess the effectiveness of the blood cancer treatment as it is administered.

Treating leukaemia / blood cancer

The San's private hospital, located on Sydney's north shore, offers comprehensive screening and treatment services for individuals undergoing assessment and treatment for leukaemia. The treatment will vary depending on the type and stage but commonly includes:

  • Chemotherapy: use of drugs to slow the growth of or kill leukaemia cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: drugs designed to target specific molecules involved in leukaemia cell growth, minimising damage to normal cells.
  • Stem cell transplantation: replacing diseased bone marrow with healthy stem cells, often following high-dose chemotherapy or radiation to eliminate leukaemia cells.
  • Biological therapy: Interferon or other substances used to enhance the body's natural defences against leukaemia cells.
  • Radiotherapy: often used in combination with other treatments, the use of radiation therapy to kill blood cancer cells.

Advancements in understanding the genetic and molecular basis of leukaemia have led to more targeted and personalised treatment approaches, improving outcomes for many patients. The San's blood cancer specialists provide regular monitoring and supportive care as part of the essential elements in managing leukaemia.


The San private hospital brings together leukaemia specialists and state-of-the-art treatment facilities, to give individuals with leukaemia comprehensive access to blood cancer diagnosis and treatment services. The San's commitment to accessible and advanced care underscores its role as a comprehensive resource for leukaemia assessment and treatment.

The San advantage

  • Specialist oncology and surgical teams
  • Leading edge technology and facilities
  • Individualised treatment plans
  • Compassionate care and support