Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are found in the bone marrow and other parts of the body. This article provides some information related to this disorder.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It occurs when the body produces a large number of immature lymphocytes. These immature blood cells continuously multiply and get overproduced in the bone marrow (the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form all blood cells), which causes damage and death of the normal, healthy cells of the bone marrow. Thus, ALL prevents the production of healthy blood cells. Instead of producing mature blood cells, the disease progresses rapidly and produces immature blood cells.
ALL is the most common of all childhood cancers; however, it can also occur in adults. There are about 3,000 children in the United States that are diagnosed with this form of cancer every year. The peak incidence of this leukemia is in children aged 3 to 5 years. Mostly, girls are more prone to this leukemia than boys.
Following can be the contributing factors for ALL:
- Chromosome problems
- Bone marrow transplant
- Toxins such as, Benzene
- Previous chemotherapy treatment
- Genetic disorders such as, Down syndrome
- Having a sibling with leukemia
The symptoms depend on the number of leukemia cells present and the area where they collect in the body. They are:
- Bleeding from gums
- Recurrent infections
- Frequent nosebleed
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Lumps due to swollen lymph nodes in and around the neck, underarms, stomach, and groin area
- Bruising without any apparent reason
- Tiny red spots or lines (Petechiae) in skin
- Joint pain
Chemotherapy: This treatment is divided into 3 phases, which take about 2½ to 3½ years. They are:
- Induction Therapy: This primary treatment aims for remission of cancer by killing the cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow. Under this therapy, the leukemia cells are not found in the bone marrow samples as the normal healthy marrow cells return and the blood cell count returns to normal.
- Consolidation Therapy: This therapy is also called the post-remission therapy. This treatment aims to destroy the leukemia cells still in the body that go undetected in tests.
- Maintenance Therapy: This is the third phase of the therapy that prevents any remaining leukemia cells from regrowing. The treatment is usually of a lower dose as most of the cancer cells are killed by the first two phases.
Some leukemia cells may spread to the brain and spinal cord. As regular chemotherapy cannot kill the cancer cells in those areas, a different method called intrathecal chemotherapy is used. In this therapy, chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the spinal canal.
Radiation therapy: In this method, high intensity radiations are used to kill the cancer cells.
Bone marrow (stem cell) transplant: In this treatment, all the cells in the bone marrow including the cancer cells are replaced by new, healthy cells.
Clinical trials: Some patients can volunteer to be a part of a research program, wherein tests are conducted to find the efficiency of new methods to treat this disease.
The prognosis depends on the following factors:
- Age and overall health of the patient
- Spread of the cancer
- Presence of Philadelphia chromosome
- Recurrence of cancer after remission
- Type of the cells, whether myeloid or lymphocytic
- Genetic makeup of cells
- Morphology of cells
- Immunologic features, that is, presence of specific markers on the cell surface
- Stage of maturity of leukemia cells
The survival rate has improved greatly in the last four decades. Today, about 20-75% children affected by this condition have a life expectancy of more than 5 years.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia survival rates are increasing with the advancement in chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation. You should speak to the doctor regarding the line of treatment required in a particular case. Love, support, and a positive approach can help patients fight this difficult phase in their lives.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.