What is Cancer

Cancer occurs when a single cell divides and produces an abnormal cell. If the abnormal cell continues to divide and does not die, it has become a cancer cell. Cancer is a common disease and it is likely sometime in your life you will know someone who is affected by it. Four out of ten people are expected to get some sort of cancer at some stage in their lives.

There are two main types of cancer:

  • Solid cancers/tumours – when an abnormal cell divides rapidly and a lump forms.
  • Leukaemias and lymphomas – when the blood cells divide and multiply abnormally.

Blood Cancer

Blood cancer represents a large group of different malignancies. This group includes cancers of the bone marrow, blood, and lymphatic system. Leukaemia and myeloma, which start in the bone marrow, and lymphoma, which starts in the lymphatic system, are the most common types of blood cancer. What causes these cancers is not known.


Leukaemia is the most common form of childhood cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the fifth most commonly occurring cancer. Leukaemia is diagnosed in 1 in 3 children with cancer. However, more adults than children are diagnosed with leukaemia each year.

Leukaemia, a Greek word meaning white blood, was identified in 1845. Leukaemia represents just over 5% of all cancers. The first drugs that were effective for the treatment of leukaemia did not appear until the 1950's.

Leukaemia is a malignant disease (cancer) of the blood and bone marrow. It is characterized by the uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. Types of leukaemia are grouped by the type of cell affected and by the rate of cell growth. Leukaemia is either acute or chronic.

When people speak of "Leukaemia" there are a variety of specific conditions that include leukaemia, aplastic anaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and related blood diseases.

Thirty years ago, patients diagnosed with leukaemia faced a poor prognosis. Thanks to developments in medical research and new treatments, around eight  in every 10 children, and three in every 10 adults survive acute leukaemia after treatment.

When you are looking for information about leukaemia, it really helps to know the proper medical diagnosis so that you can find the correct information.

Leukaemia or Leukemia - US and UK spelling

It's not surprising that spelling of medical terms is confusing. Leukaemia is the English spelling, while Leukemia is the American spelling!