Acute Leukemia


Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow, causing a large number of white blood cells to be produced. The white blood cells accumulate in the blood, and the high concentration of these cells interferes with the production of normal blood cells. As the number of normal blood cells declines, the symptoms associated with leukemia manifests. Unlike chronic leukemia, acute leukemia progresses quickly.

There are several types of acute leukemia.

  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is the most common type of leukemia of childhood, although adults can be affected. It is a cancer of the white blood cells that starts in the bone marrow and can spread to the other organs. More than 80% of children with this type of leukemia are cured, while approximately 20-40% of adults are cured. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia also includes T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is a rare cancer of the immune system’s T-cells. It is highly aggressive, considered a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and usually fatal. It often results in death within one year of diagnosis.
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a rare cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. It is the most common type of leukemia to affect adults, but accounts for only about 1.2% of cancer deaths in the United States.
  • Blast Crisis of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia is associated with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Chronic myelogenous leukemia is treated with targeted drugs, allowing most patients to have a good quality of life with the possibility of remission. A blast crisis is the final stage of chronic myelogenous leukemia, which progresses rapidly and is associated with a short survival.

General Information

The symptoms of acute leukemia vary by type and individual. The symptoms associated with leukemia are often attributed to abnormal blood levels and may include: fatigue, fever, pale skin, easy bruising, petechiate (small, purple spots under skin caused by bleeding), joint pain, frequent or persistent infections, shortness of breath, tachycardia (high heart rate), and others.

The diagnosis for leukemia begins with a physical exam and blood tests, but bone marrow aspiration and biopsy is required to determine whether leukemia cells are present. Additional testing is performed to determine the subtype.

Treatment varies depending on the age and health of the patient and the type of leukemia. Treatment is performed in stages.

The first stage is induction chemotherapy.The goal of this phase is to kill the leukemia cells that are in the blood and bone marrow to induce remission using chemotherapy. Remission refers to a condition in which no disease is detected with diagnostic methods.

The second stage would be post remission therapy, consolidation, or intensification. This phase is carried out after remission is induced to kill any leftover leukemia cells that may not be active. The goal of this phase is to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. This can be done with chemotherapy, and in some cases, a stem cell transplant.

Additional therapies may include radiation therapy, biological therapy, and immunotherapy. Additional treatment may be involved to treat the symptoms, such as antibiotics for infection or blood transfusions for blood levels. Because treatment may vary depending on the type of leukemia, a doctor should be consulted for recommendations and prognosis. Because of ongoing clinical trials and research, treatment methods are constantly changing along with survival rates.

Social Security Administration POMS: DI 23022.085 – Acute Leukemia

Acute leukemia is listed under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Compassionate Allowance Program, which was launched in 2008 to expedite certain disability claims. Applying for disability benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Program requires the same procedure every applicant must follow when applying for SSA disability benefits; however, you will be notified if your condition is being considered as a compassionate allowance.

In order to establish disability under the guidelines of the SSA based on your diagnosis of acute leukemia, you will need a bone marrow biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of acute leukemia. Once the SSA approves your claim, you are considered disabled for at least 24 months from the date of diagnosis or relapse, or 12 months from date of bone marrow or step cell transplantation (whichever is later). After this period, disability would be evaluated based on any residual impairment(s) and the effect on your functioning.

Your representative may be able to help expedite your disability claim if you have a diagnosis of acute leukemia.