Normal Bone Marrow and Blood

Different types of leukemia are formed from different types of cells. To understand the different types of leukemia, it helps to have some basic knowledge about the blood and lymph systems. The information which follows is quite complex. It may prove helpful, but you don't need to understand all of it to learn more about your leukemia.

Bone marrow

Bone marrow is the soft inner part of some bones such as the skull, shoulder blades, ribs, pelvis, and backbones. Bone marrow is made up of a small number of blood stem cells, more mature blood-forming cells, fat cells, and supporting tissues that help cells grow.

Inside the bone marrow, blood stem cells develop into new blood cells. During this process, the cells become either lymphocytes (a kind of white blood cell) or other blood-forming cells. These blood-forming cells can develop red blood cells, white blood cells (other than lymphocytes), or platelets.

Types of Blood cells

Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all other tissues in the body, and take carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be removed. Having too few red blood cells in the body (anemia) can make you feel tired, weak, and short of breath because your body tissues are not getting enough oxygen.

Platelets are actually cell fragments made by a type of bone marrow cell called the megakaryocyte. Platelets are important in plugging up holes in blood vessels caused by cuts or bruises. Having too few platelets (thrombocytopenia) may cause you to bleed or bruise easily.

White blood cells help the body fight infections. Having too few white blood cells (neutropenia) lowers your immune system and can make you more likely to get an infection.

Types of white blood cells

Lymphocytes are mature, infection-fighting cells that develop from lymphoblasts, a type of blood stem cell in the bone marrow. Lymphocytes are the main cells that make up lymphoid tissue, a major part of the immune system. Lymphoid tissue is found in lymph nodes, the thymus gland, the spleen, the tonsils and adenoids, and is scattered throughout the digestive and respiratory systems and the bone marrow. The 2 major types of lymphocytes are known as B lymphocytes (B cells) and T lymphocytes (T cells). Lymphocytes help protect the body from germs. Some types of lymphocytes help regulate the immune system.

Granulocytes are mature, infection-fighting cells that develop from myeloblasts, a type of blood forming cell in the bone marrow. Granulocytes have granules that show up as spots under the microscope. These granules contain enzymes and other substances that can destroy germs, such as bacteria. The 3 types of granulocytes -- neutrophils, basophils, and eosinophils -- are distinguished under the microscope by the size and color of their granules. Neutrophils are the most common type of granulocyte in the blood. They are essential in destroying bacteria that have invaded the blood.

Monocytes develop from blood-forming monoblasts in the bone marrow and are related to granulocytes. After circulating in the bloodstream for about a day, monocytes enter body tissues to become macrophages, which can destroy some germs by surrounding and digesting them. Macrophages also help lymphocytes recognize germs and start making antibodies to fight them.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 24, 2015 Last Revised: February 22, 2016

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