Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
What is acute lymphocytic leukemia?
Acute lymphocytic leukemia is also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL. Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell (WBC). When a person has ALL, more lymphocytes are made than the body needs. These abnormal lymphocytes are called lymphoblasts (leukemia cells). Lymphoblasts do not fight infection like a normal WBC should. They crowd the bone marrow and prevent normal blood cells from growing and fighting infection.
What causes ALL?
The exact cause of ALL is not known. It is most common among children younger than 10 years. You may have an increased risk for ALL if:
- You have been exposed to high amounts of radiation or certain medicines or chemicals.
- You are over 50 years old.
- You were born with Down syndrome.
- You have a brother or sister with leukemia.
What are the signs and symptoms of ALL?
- Low energy: You may feel tired, dizzy, or weak. You may look paler than normal. You may have shortness of breath when you exercise.
- Bleeding problems:
- Bleeding from your gums, nose, or skin, or blood in your urine or bowel movements
- Tiny, red-spotted rash
- Monthly periods that are not normal.
- Bleeding longer or more than usual when you get a cut or injury
- Pain and discomfort:
- Bone or joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Fever for no known reason
- Large lumps on your neck, in your armpits, or around your collarbone (enlarged lymph nodes)
- Vomiting, trouble eating, or weight loss
- Very fast or irregular heartbeat
- Bone or joint pain
- Increased infections: You may get colds and infections that do not get better or keep coming back.
How is ALL diagnosed?
- Blood tests: You will need blood tests to count the number of each type of blood cell (RBCs, WBCs, platelets).
- Bone marrow biopsy: During this procedure, a small amount of bone marrow is taken from the bone in your hip. This test helps caregivers find out which type of leukemia you have.
How is ALL treated?
You may get treatment in phases. In the first phase, caregivers will give you treatments to make your AML go into remission. Remission means there are no longer any signs of leukemia. After you are in remission, you will get the next phase of treatment called post-remission treatment. The goal of this phase it to kill any hidden leukemia cells and help you stay in remission. Treatments may include the following:
- Chemotherapy: This medicine is also called chemo. It is used to kill cancer cells. Your caregiver may give you two or more kinds of chemotherapy.
- Radiation: Radiation shrinks tumors and kills cancer cells with x-rays or gamma rays. It may be given alone or with chemotherapy to treat cancer.
- Bone marrow or stem cell transplant: This may be part of your post-remission treatment. During this procedure, bone marrow or stem cells are put in your blood through an IV. The stem cells should go to your bone marrow and begin to make new blood cells.
What are the risks of ALL?
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may damage your bone marrow. You may have pain, discomfort, or tiredness from a treatment. You could have a bad reaction to a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant. Even with treatment, ALL may not go away or it may return. With treatment, your chances of controlling ALL or being cured of ALL are better.
Where can I find support and more information?
- American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street
Atlanta , GA 30303
Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
Web Address: http://www.cancer.org
- National Cancer Institute
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
Web Address: http://www.cancer.gov
- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Inc.
1311 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains , NY 10605
Phone: 1- 914 - 949-5213
Phone: 1- 800 - 955-4572
Web Address: http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.