Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

What is leukemia?
Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells, usually the white blood cells.

What are the types of leukemia?
There are four main types of leukemia, which can be further divided into subtypes. When classifying the type of leukemia, the first steps are to determine if the cancer is:

1. lymphocytic or myelogenous leukemia:
Cancer can occur in either the lymphoid or myeloid white blood cells.

›When the cancer develops in the lymphocytes (lymphoid cells), it is called lymphocytic leukemia.

› When the cancer develops in the granulocytes or monocytes (myeloid cells), it is called myelogenous leukemia.

2. acute or chronic leukemia:
Leukemia is either acute or chronic.

acute leukemia
The new or immature cells, called blasts, remain very immature and cannot perform their functions. The blasts increase in number rapidly, and the disease progresses quickly.

chronic leukemia
There are some blast cells present, but they are more mature and are able to perform some of their functions. The cells grow more slowly, and the number increases less quickly, so the disease progresses gradually.

Based on these findings, the leukemia is then classified into one of the four main types of leukemias: acute myelogenous leukemia (AML); chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML); acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL); or chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

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 more common in children than adults, with most children under the age of 10 when the cancer is found. According to the American Cancer Society, of the 33,440 leukemia cases expected in 2004 about 15,750 will be acute. ALL will account for 3,830 of the acute cases in 2004. The chance of a someone 50 years old developing ALL is one in 125,000.

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:

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:

Treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia:

Specific treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia will be determined by your physician based on:

Treatment may include:

Stanford Medicine Resources:

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