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Home > Cancers We Treat > Hematologic Cancer > Leukemia > Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Definition

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells in the bone marrow. The white blood cells, called lymphocytes, grow in the bone marrow but then travels through the body in the blood to help fight instructions. When these white blood cells have leukemia they are not able to fight infections.

ALL also causes the bone marrow to make too many of these cells. The overgrowth makes it difficult for other blood cells like red blood cells or platelets to develop. Low levels of other blood cells can cause a variety of symptoms such as bleeding problems, fatigue and shortness of breath.


White Blood Cells
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Causes 

The cause of ALL is unknown. Many cancers are believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Risk Factors 

ALL is more common in white males. It is also more likely to occur in children and adults over 70 years of age. Other factors that have been associated with an increased chance of ALL include:

  • Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment
  • Exposure to atomic bomb radiation or nuclear reactor accident
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides or benzene (common in agriculture, dye works, and paint manufacturing and use)
  • Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, Bloom syndrome, Fanconi's anemia, ataxia-telangiectasia, neurofibromatosis, Shwachman syndrome, IgA deficiency, and congenital X-linked agammaglobulinemia

Factors that may increase the chance of ALL in children only include:

  • Having a brother or sister with leukemia
  • Exposure to x-rays before birth
  • Exposure to radiation, including X-rays and CT scans
  • Previous chemotherapy or other treatment that weakens the immune system

Symptoms

You should see a doctor if you or your child is experiencing:

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Pale skin
  • Night sweats
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach, or groin
  • Swelling of the liver and/or spleen

Diagnosis

A physical exam will be done including check for swelling of the liver, spleen, or lymph nodes. 

Abnormal cells may be found through:

  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

These tests will help guide treatment:

  • Cytogenetic analysis
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Chest x-ray

Treatment

Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy With Stem Cell Transplant
  • Biologic Therapy
  • Possible Development of New Cancers

Prevention

There are no guidelines for preventing ALL since its cause is unknown.

 

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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