Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
What is acute lymphocytic leukemia?
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the blood in which too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced by the bone marrow and by organs of the lymph system.
Normally, the lymphocytes fight infection by making antibodies that attack harmful elements. But, in ALL, the cells are immature and overabundant. They crowd out other blood cells, and may collect in the blood, bone marrow, and lymph tissue.
Acute leukemia can occur over a short period of days to weeks. Chromosome abnormalities (extra chromosomes and structural changes in the chromosome material) are present in the majority of all patients.
ALL is the most common type of leukemia in young children. This type of leukemia may also affect adults, especially those age 65 and older.
What are the symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia?
The following are the most common symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- persistent weakness
- aches in bones and joints
- swollen lymph nodes
The symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
How is acute lymphocytic leukemia diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for acute lymphocytic leukemia may include the following:
- additional blood tests and other evaluation procedures
- bone marrow aspiration and biopsy – marrow may be removed by aspiration or a needle biopsy under local anesthesia. In aspiration biopsy, a fluid specimen is removed from the bone marrow. In a needle biopsy, marrow cells (not fluid) are removed. These methods are often used together.
- spinal tap/lumbar puncture – a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.
Treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia:
Specific treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- radiation therapy
- bone marrow transplantation
Next page: Acute Myelogenous Leukemia