Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of blood cancer. Also known as acute lymphocytic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia, it is the least common type of leukemia in adults. Here's what you need to know about symptoms, prognosis, survival rates, and treatment for ALL.
What Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?
ALL is a type of leukemia that starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow, the soft inner part of bones. It develops from cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell central to the immune system, or from lymphoblasts, an immature type of lymphocyte.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia invades the blood and can spread throughout the body to other organs, such as the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. But it does not normally produce tumors as do many types of cancer. It is an acute type of leukemia, which means it can progress quickly. Without treatment, it can be fatal within a few months.
The outlook for acute lymphoblastic leukemia depends on factors such as:
- Your age. Younger patients tend to have a better outlook.
- Your lab test results. For example, your outlook is better if you have a lower white blood count when you're diagnosed.
- Your subtype of ALL (B-cell ALL or T-cell ALL)
- Whether or not you have a chromosome abnormality called the Philadelphia chromosome. Having it suggests a poorer prognosis.
- Your response to chemotherapy. Your outlook is better if you have no evidence of leukemia four to five weeks after starting treatment.
Risk Factors for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
For most people, the cause of ALL is unknown. For this reason, there is no known way to prevent it. However, there are a few known risk factors for this type of leukemia. This means these factors may increase your chances of getting acute lymphoblastic leukemia. But it is not yet known whether these risk factors are actual causes of the disease:
- Exposure to high levels of radiation to treat other types of cancer
- Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene, a solvent used in oil refineries and other industries and present in cigarette smoke, certain cleaning products, detergents, and paint strippers
- Infection with human T-cell lymphoma/leukemia virus-1 (HTLV-1) in rarer cases outside the U.S. or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a related leukemia more commonly seen in Africa.
- Having an inherited genetic syndrome such as Down syndrome
- Being white
- Being male
Symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
ALL can cause a variety of symptoms. Some of these can be vague and not specific just to leukemia. They include:
- Loss of appetite or weight
- Night sweats
Many symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia are the result of a shortage of normal blood cells. That's because leukemia cells crowd out these normal cells in the bone marrow.