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Cancer Health Center

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Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

ALL (also called acute lymphocytic leukemia) is an aggressive type of leukemia characterized by the presence of too many lymphoblasts or lymphocytes in the bone marrow and peripheral blood. It can spread to the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system (CNS), and other organs. Without treatment, ALL usually progresses quickly.

Signs and symptoms of ALL may include the following:

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ALL occurs in both children and adults. It is the most common type of cancer in children, and treatment results in a good chance for a cure. For adults, the prognosis is not as optimistic. This summary discusses ALL in adults. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment for more information about ALL in children.)

Incidence and Mortality

Estimated new cases and deaths from ALL in the United States in 2014:[1]

  • New cases: 6,020.
    • Children (aged 0-14 years) cases: 2,670 (26% of common cancers in children).
    • Adolescents (aged 15-19 years) cases: 410 (8% of common cancers in adolescents).
  • Deaths: 1,440.


ALL presumably arises from malignant transformation of B- or T-cell progenitor cells.[2] It is more commonly seen in children, but can occur at any age. The disease is characterized by the accumulation of lymphoblasts in the marrow or in various extramedullary sites, frequently accompanied by suppression of normal hematopoiesis. B- and T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia cells express surface antigens that parallel their respective lineage developments. Precursor B-cell ALL cells typically express CD10, CD19, and CD34 on their surface along, with nuclear terminal deoxynucleotide transferase (TdT), while precursor T-cell ALL cells commonly express CD2, CD3, CD7, CD34, and TdT.

Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.

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