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About Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

A form of blood and bone marrow malignancy, ALL is an aggressive, fast-growing disease that can develop at any age (although it is more common in children). In the United States, about 1,000 new cases of ALL are diagnosed in adults every year.


In this disease, the bone marrow begins to produce too many immature lymphocytes, called lymphoblasts. These abnormal cells do not function properly and block the production of other types of healthy blood cells, such as red blood cells and platelets.

The precise cause of ALL remains unknown for the vast majority of cases. In addition, research has shown that most cases of ALL are not hereditary. However, a number of risk factors have been determined:

  • Family history of ALL
  • Having an identical twin with ALL
  • Specific genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
  • Having received chemotherapy or radiation therapy in the past

Having particular viral infections, such as human T-cell lymphoma/leukemia virus-1 (HTLV-1), which is rare outside of the Caribbean and Japan

ALL can be very aggressive, spreading rapidly to involve the lymph nodes, central nervous system, skin, spleen, or bone marrow and blood. Most of the signs and symptoms of ALL are caused by a shortage of normal blood cells, which occurs when leukemia cells overcrowd the healthy cells in the bone marrow. The most common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss or reduced appetite
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue, generalized weakness
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Flu-like symptoms – fever, chills, sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising
  • Infections that don’t go away
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Bleeding gums
  • Pale skin

Unlike many other cancers, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia does not generally form tumors. Generally, it affects the body’s entire bone marrow and by the time it is discovered, it has spread to other organs. Therefore, ALL cannot be staged in the same manner as other cancers. Instead, ALL is classified primarily by the types of lymphocytes that are affected.

  • B-cell ALL affects B lymphocytes, which are produced in the bone marrow and mature there. These white blood cells play a significant role in immunity and antibody production. This type of ALL is more common, comprising about 85% of all cases of ALL.
  • T-cell ALL affects T lymphocytes, which are produced in the bone marrow and mature in the thymus, which is a part of the lymphatic system. T lymphocytes are involved largely in cell-mediated immunity. This type of ALL is less common, representing only about 15% of all cases.

What is ALL?

In this disease, the bone marrow begins to produce too many immature lymphocytes, called lymphoblasts. These abnormal cells do not function properly and block the production of other types of healthy blood cells, such as red blood cells and platelets.

 

What are the Risk Factors for ALL?

The precise cause of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia remains unknown for the vast majority of cases. In addition, research has shown that most cases of ALL are not hereditary. However, a number of risk factors have been determined:

  • Family history of ALL
  • Having an identical twin with ALL
  • Specific genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
  • Having received chemotherapy or radiation therapy in the past
  • Having particular viral infections, such as human T-cell lymphoma/leukemia virus-1 (HTLV-1), which is rare outside of the Caribbean and Japan

What are the Symptoms of ALL?

ALL can be very aggressive, spreading rapidly to involve the lymph nodes, central nervous system, skin, spleen, or bone marrow and blood. Most of the signs and symptoms of ALL are caused by a shortage of normal blood cells, which occurs when leukemia cells overcrowd the healthy cells in the bone marrow.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss or reduced appetite
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue, generalized weakness
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Flu-like symptoms – fever, chills, sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising
  • Infections that don’t go away
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Bleeding gums
  • Pale skin

 

Are there Different Types of ALL?

Unlike many other cancers, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia does not generally form tumors. Generally, it affects the body’s entire bone marrow and by the time it is discovered, it has spread to other organs. Therefore, ALL cannot be staged in the same manner as other cancers. Instead, ALL is classified primarily by the types of lymphocytes that are affected.

  • B-cell ALL affects B lymphocytes, which are produced in the bone marrow and mature there. These white blood cells play a significant role in immunity and antibody production. This type of ALL is more common, comprising about 85% of all cases of ALL.
  • T-cell ALL affects T lymphocytes, which are produced in the bone marrow and mature in the thymus, which is a part of the lymphatic system. T lymphocytes are involved largely in cell-mediated immunity. This type of ALL is less common, representing only about 15% of all cases.

 

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