Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
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What is cancer?
Cancer starts when cells in the body change and grow out of control. Your body is
made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs
them, and die when your body doesn't need them any longer. Cancer is made up of abnormal
cells that grow even though your body doesn’t need them. In most types of cancer,
the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor.
What is leukemia?
Leukemia is different from most other types of cancer. Leukemia is a blood cancer
that starts in the bone marrow, which is where new blood cells are made. The bone
marrow is a thick, sponge-like tissue in the center of certain bones.
Leukemia cells are early or premature forms of blood cells, most often white blood
cells. When a person has leukemia, the body makes too many of these premature, abnormal
cells. They don't work the way they should and don't mature into functional cells.
Leukemia cells often don't form tumors. They travel in the blood all over the body.
This means leukemia can affect organs anywhere in the body.
Two types of white blood cells can turn into leukemia:
Leukemia can also be either acute or chronic. Acute leukemia tends to grow very quickly
and needs to be treated right away. Chronic leukemia often grows much more slowly.
What is acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)?
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a type of leukemia that starts in very early or
premature forms of white blood cells called lymphocytes. These immature cells are
called lymphoblasts, or just blasts. This cancer is also known as acute lymphoblastic
leukemia. As the blasts grow, they can crowd out the normal cells in the bone marrow.
This can lead to not having enough of the different types of blood cells.
People with ALL have too many lymphocytes in their blood, but these cells aren't normal
and don't help fight infection. In fact, people with ALL are more likely to get infections
because they don't have enough working white blood cells. They can also have low levels
of red blood cells (anemia), which can cause severe tiredness (fatigue). And they
can have not enough platelets, which can lead to excess bleeding or bruising.
ALL is a type of acute leukemia. This means it tends to grow quickly and needs to
be treated right away.
Subtypes of ALL
ALL can be grouped into different subtypes. These are based on the type of lymphocyte
the leukemia starts in, how mature the cells are, and other details. The subtype of
ALL can affect both your treatment and your prognosis (outlook).
Another aspect of typing that's done for ALL is looking for a certain genetic change
called the Philadelphia chromosome. This change is found only in leukemia cells. It's
a key part of deciding on the best treatment plan.
Ask your healthcare provider about your subtype of ALL and what it means in your case.
The subtypes include:
This subtype of ALL starts in B lymphocytes (B cells). It's the most common subtype.
It can be further grouped into one of the below:
This subtype of ALL starts in T lymphocytes (T cells). It can be one of the below:
Precursor-T cell ALL
Mature T-cell ALL
Talk with your healthcare provider
If you have questions about your ALL, talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider
can help you understand more about this type of leukemia.
Online Medical Reviewers:
- Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
- Louise Cunningham RN BSN
- Todd Gersten MD
Also see: Leukemia in Children