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Leukemia & Lymphoma

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Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma

What Is Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma?

Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL) is a rare type of blood cancer. It's more common in young people, mostly boys. It doesn't run in families.

ALCL is a serious illness. It can be fast growing, and it often returns. Treatments can help you fight it. Other therapies can help you feel better.

Scientists are still looking for new and better ways to treat both the disease and the symptoms.

When you have lymphoma, cells called lymphocytes grow out of control. These are white blood cells that usually fight infection. With ALCL, they build up in small glands called lymph nodes or in other parts of your body, like your lungs or skin.

ALCL can show up in two ways:

  • In the skin, it's called cutaneous ALCL. It usually grows slowly.
  • In the lymph nodes and other organs, it's called systemic ALCL. It often spreads quickly.

Doctors will also need to find out whether your cancer has a certain protein, called ALK.

  • ALK-positive cancers are more common in young people and usually respond well to chemotherapy.
  • ALK-negative cancers are more common people over 60. This type may need stronger treatment because it is more likely to come back.


Researchers don't know what causes ALCL, but they do know it isn't inherited.


Often, the first sign of systemic ALCL is swelling in the neck, armpit, or groin, where your legs meet the trunk of your body.

You may also have symptoms like:

With cutaneous ALCL, you may first notice one or more raised, red bumps on the skin that don't go away. These are tumors. They can form open sores, and they may itch.

Getting a Diagnosis

When you come in for a visit, your doctor will want to know:

  • When did you first notice changes?
  • Are there any swollen glands?
  • Is there pain? Where?
  • What about appetite? Any weight loss?
  • More tired than usual?
  • Any skin bumps? Do they itch?

To see if you have ALCL, doctors may take a biopsy from a swollen lymph node. It's quick and doesn't require a hospital stay. Doctors make a small cut in the skin and remove all or part of the lymph node, or use a needle to take a sample. They look at the cells under a microscope.

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