Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), also known as acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute lymphoid leukemia, is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the blood and bone marrow, specifically in the lymphocytes. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside the bones where new blood cells are made. Lymphocytes are a group of white blood cells that help the body fight infections, but when cancerous they will overcrowd the bone marrow and prevent the body from making normal, healthy blood cells and platelets. In acute forms of leukemia, cancerous cells often invade the bloodstream quickly, and easily spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, the word “acute” always indicates a more urgent and serious prognosis. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common type of cancer found in children, where treatments often result in a cure. While ALL can also occur in adults, a cure is far less likely.

Signs and symptoms may vary and may include one or more of the following:

  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Infections
  • Frequent or severe nosebleeds
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath

The exact underlying cause or causes of acute lymphoblastic leukemia are unknown, though most doctors have ruled out hereditary factors, genetic predispositions, and having a sibling with ALL. Treatments for ALL typically fall into progressive phases that can span on average two to three years.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment options typically depend on the patient’s age, their “fitness”, and genetic features of their disease, but may include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted therapy