Acute lymphocytic leukemia

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science.

This page was updated on May 26, 2022.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute lymphoid leukemia, is a blood cancer that results when abnormal white blood cells (leukemia cells) accumulate in the bone marrow.

ALL progresses rapidly, replacing healthy cells that produce functional lymphocytes with leukemia cells that can't mature properly. The leukemia cells are carried in the bloodstream to other organs and tissues, including the brain, liver, lymph nodes and testes, where they continue to grow and divide. The growing, dividing and spreading of these leukemia cells may result in a number of possible symptoms.

ALL is typically associated with having more B lymphatic cells than T cells. B and T cells play active roles in preventing the body from infections and germs and destroying cells that have already become infected. B cells particularly help prevent germs from infecting the body while T cells destroy the infected cells.

ALL can occur at any age, but acute lymphocytic leukemia incidences occur most frequently in people under the age of 15 or over the age of 45. Although ALL makes up the largest percentage of leukemia diagnoses in children under the age of 15 (specifically between the ages of two to four), it is rare for adults to develop this disease.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia symptoms

ALL symptoms are often similar to those of the flu and can include the following:

  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale skin
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches

Other potential signs and symptoms of ALL may include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Frequent infections
  • Nosebleeds
  • Easy bruising
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the neck, underarm, stomach or groin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

Acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment options

Treatment for ALL may include chemotherapy, chemotherapy with stem cell transplantradiation therapy and/or immunotherapy. Your integrated team of leukemia experts will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your unique diagnosis and needs.

A common chemotherapy treatment for ALL begins with induction chemotherapy, in which a combination of drugs is used to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible and bring blood counts to normal. This is followed by consolidation chemotherapy, to destroy any remaining leukemia cells that cannot be seen in the blood or bone marrow.

Patients with ALL may also receive maintenance chemotherapy. This less intensive course of chemotherapy is used to reduce the risk of the disease recurring after treatment has finished.

Next topic: What is acute myeloid leukemia?

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