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Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

What is acute lymphocytic leukemia?

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), or acute lymphoblastic 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 normal WBCs. 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. The following may increase your risk for ALL:

  • Exposure to high amounts of radiation, certain medicines, or chemicals

  • Age older than 50 years

  • Down syndrome

  • A brother or sister has leukemia

What are the signs and symptoms of ALL?

  • Easy bleeding or bruising

  • Abdominal, bone, or joint pain or headaches

  • Frequent illnesses, such as colds, coughs, or the flu

  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin

  • Shortness of breath or feeling very tired

  • Fever

  • Weight loss without trying

  • Night sweats

How is ALL diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be done to count the number of each type of blood cell (RBCs, WBCs, platelets).

  • A bone marrow biopsy is a procedure to take a small amount of bone marrow 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 ALL 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 is to kill any hidden leukemia cells and help you stay in remission. Treatments may include the following:

  • Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. Your caregiver may give you 2 or more kinds of chemotherapy.

  • Radiation therapy shrinks tumors and kills cancer cells with x-rays or gamma rays. It may be given alone or with chemotherapy to treat cancer.

  • A bone marrow or stem cell transplant 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.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You see blood in your spit or vomit.

  • You have coughing or shortness of breath.

  • You feel dizzy or your heart begins to beat very fast.

  • You have sores or white patches in your mouth or throat.

  • You have rectal pain or hemorrhoids.

  • You have diarrhea or bloody bowel movements.

  • You have pain in your eyes, ears, skin, joints, or stomach.

  • You have pain when you urinate, or bad-smelling urine.

  • You have frequent nosebleeds, or your gums bleed.

  • You have blurred vision, or blood spots in the whites of your eyes.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.

  • You cough up blood.

  • You have a headache, stiff neck, or have trouble seeing or thinking clearly.

  • You are taking chemotherapy pills or have had chemotherapy in the last 2 weeks and you have a fever.

Care Agreement

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. 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.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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