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At what age is leukemia usually diagnosed?

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It results from an abnormal production of blood cells, usually white blood cells. Leukemia is the most common cancer diagnosed in children, but it can occur at any age. Understanding the typical age range for leukemia diagnosis can help patients and doctors recognize warning signs earlier.

What is leukemia?

Leukemia refers to a group of cancers that start in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. There are several main types of leukemia:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL): This is the most common type of childhood leukemia, accounting for around 80% of cases in kids. It affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infection.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): AML develops from cells that turn into white blood cells (except lymphocytes), red blood cells, or platelet cells. It progresses rapidly and is more common in adults.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): This type of leukemia affects mature lymphocytes and tends to progress slowly. It mainly occurs in older adults.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML): CML affects myeloid cells and causes them to multiply uncontrollably. It usually occurs in adults around age 60.

In all types of leukemia, immature blood cells multiply rapidly in the bone marrow and interrupt the production of normal blood cells. These abnormal cells spill out into the bloodstream.

Leukemia in children

Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, accounting for about 30% of all cancers in children under 15 years old. The two main types of leukemia affecting children are:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

ALL is far more common, making up about 80% of all childhood leukemia cases. AML accounts for most of the remaining 20%.

Some key facts about childhood leukemia:

  • It is slightly more common in boys than girls.
  • The peak age of diagnosis is between 2 and 5 years old.
  • It is uncommon in infants under 1 year old.
  • The survival rate is over 90% for children with ALL and around 70% for those with AML.

Age breakdown of childhood leukemia cases

Here is a breakdown of the typical age range when different types of childhood leukemia are diagnosed:

Type of leukemia Peak age of diagnosis
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) 2-5 years old
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) Under 2 years old

As the table shows, ALL most often occurs in children between 2 and 5 years old, while AML peaks in kids under 2. But leukemia can occur at any age during childhood.

Leukemia in adolescents and young adults

Leukemia is less common in teens and young adults than younger children. But this age group, defined roughly as 15-39 years old, does see a significant number of leukemia cases.

ALL becomes less common after childhood, while AML starts to increase in adolescence and young adulthood. CLL and CML are also more common in this age group than in younger kids.

Key facts about leukemia in adolescents and young adults:

  • About 25% of all leukemia cases are diagnosed in this age group.
  • AML accounts for about 45% of cases.
  • ALL represents around 20% of cases.
  • CLL and CML each make up 10-15% of cases.

The peak ages for diagnosis are:

  • ALL: 15-19 years old
  • AML: 20-29 years old
  • CLL and CML: 30-39 years old

Age breakdown of leukemia in young adults

Type of leukemia Peak age of diagnosis
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) 15-19 years old
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) 20-29 years old
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) 30-39 years old
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) 30-39 years old

This table summarizes the most common age range for different leukemia types in adolescents and young adults. The risk declines significantly after age 39.

Leukemia in adults

In adults over 40, chronic leukemias like CLL and CML become more common. Acute leukemias like ALL and AML are less frequent but still occur.

Key facts about adult leukemia:

  • CLL is the most common type, accounting for around 40% of cases.
  • CML represents around 15-20% of cases.
  • AML accounts for about 30% of cases.
  • ALL is rare, making up only 5% of adult leukemia.

In general, the risk of developing leukemia increases with age. Almost 90% of all leukemias in adults over 55 are diagnosed in people older than 60.

Age breakdown of adult leukemia diagnoses

Type of leukemia Most common age
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) No peak age
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) Over 65 years old
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) Over 55 years old
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) Over 60 years old

This table shows the typical age ranges for different leukemia types in adults. The risk of ALL does not seem to peak at any particular age.


In summary, here are some key points about the typical ages for leukemia diagnosis:

  • ALL peaks between ages 2-5 years old.
  • AML peaks before age 2 and again between 20-29 years old.
  • CLL and CML occur most commonly over age 55.
  • Adults over 60 have the highest risk of developing leukemia.

While these are the average ages, it’s important to remember leukemia can occur at any age. Staying aware of the possible symptoms is vital for early detection, regardless of age.

Some general leukemia symptoms to watch for include fatigue, fever, increased bleeding or bruising, bone or joint pain, and frequent infections. Talk to a doctor if these or other persistent symptoms arise.

Catching leukemia early greatly improves the chances of successful treatment. Don’t ignore warning signs, even in young kids or teens where leukemia is less common. Being informed about the typical diagnosis ages can help patients and doctors identify cases sooner.