Overview

About Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

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About Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many of a type of blood cell or abnormal blood cells. In acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the bone marrow produces too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Acute leukemia can get worse quickly if not treated.

Children can get ALL as well, but the disease and its treatment can be quite different.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of ALL:

  • Having many infections
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Flat spots under the skin, also called petechiae
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach or groin
  • Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Pain in the bones or stomach
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of Blood Cell Development

drawing of blood cell development

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

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the recommendations of the care team and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment: 

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
  • Targeted therapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Hematologic Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with all types of blood cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and cancer screenings.

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for adult ALL:

  • Being male
  • Being white
  • Being older than 70
  • Having past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Being exposed to high levels of radiation from the environment, including nuclear radiation
  • Having certain genetic disorders

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Doctors use these tests to diagnose ALL:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They also look for abnormal amounts of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: The health care provider removes a small sample of bone marrow to look for abnormal cells under a microscope.
  • Cytogenetic analysis: The health care provider tests blood or bone marrow samples to look for specific changes in the chromosomes of the abnormal cells. The results can help doctors recommend specific treatments. 

Stages of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Cancer stages show if cancer has spread to other parts of the body. There is no standard staging system for ALL. Learn more about ALL from the National Cancer Institute.