Acute lymphocytic leukemia
Acute lymphocytic leukemia
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
The word "acute" in acute lymphocytic leukemia comes from the fact that the disease progresses rapidly and affects immature blood cells, rather than mature ones. The "lymphocytic" in acute lymphocytic leukemia refers to the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which ALL affects. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute childhood leukemia.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children, and treatments result in a good chance for a cure. Acute lymphocytic leukemia can also occur in adults, though the prognosis is not as optimistic.
Signs and symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia may include:
When to see a doctor
Acute lymphocytic leukemia occurs when a bone marrow cell develops errors in its DNA. The errors tell the cell to continue growing and dividing, when a healthy cell would normally die. When this happens, blood cell production goes awry. The bone marrow produces immature cells that develop into leukemic white blood cells called lymphoblasts. These abnormal cells are unable to function properly, and they can build up and crowd out healthy cells.
It's not clear what causes the DNA mutations that can lead to acute lymphocytic leukemia. But doctors have found that most cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia aren't inherited.
Factors that may increase the risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia include:
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your family doctor or a general practitioner if you or your child has signs and symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects acute lymphocytic leukemia, you'll likely be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating diseases and conditions of the blood and bone marrow (hematologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from the doctor.
What you can do
Time with the doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For acute lymphocytic leukemia, some basic questions to ask the doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask the doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during the appointment any time you don't understand something.
What to expect from the doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Tests and procedures used to diagnose acute lymphocytic leukemia include:
Bone marrow biopsy
In a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, a doctor or nurse uses a thin needle to remove a small amount of liquid bone marrow, usually from a spot in the back of your hipbone called the posterior iliac ...
Treatments and drugs
In general, treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia falls into separate phases:
Depending on your situation, the phases of treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia can span 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years.
Treatments may include:
ALL in older adults
No alternative treatments have been found to cure acute lymphocytic leukemia. But some alternative therapies may help ease the side effects of cancer treatment and make you or your child more comfortable.
Alternative treatments that may ease signs and symptoms include:
Talk to your doctor if you're interested in trying alternative treatments. Some alternative therapies are safe, while others can interfere with your cancer treatments.
Coping and support
Although treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia is typically very successful, it can be a long road. Treatment often lasts 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years, although the first three to six months are the most intense. During maintenance phases, children can usually live a relatively normal life and go back to school. And adults may be able to continue working. To help you cope, try to:
Last Updated: 2010-09-04
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