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What is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow, which is the organ responsible for blood cell development. Normally, there are three types of cells in your blood stream:

  • White blood cells
  • Red blood cells
  • Platelets

Acute leukemia is considered lymphoid or myeloid based on the type of blood cell that is involved. Lymphoid cells are cells that, under normal development, would have become lymphocytes, which are types of white blood cells. Myeloid cells are cells that would have become other blood cells (white blood cells other than lymphocytes, red blood cells or platelets) under normal development. In patients with acute leukemia, immature cells called "blasts" overtake the bone marrow. In patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the bone marrow is overtaken by lymphoid blasts.

ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer, but it is more common in adults than children. There are approximately 3,000 to 5,000 new cases of ALL per year in the United States. Once diagnosed, a person will ALL will need to receive treatment as soon as possible. If left untreated, the disease progresses rapidly and can be fatal.

Other Names for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

ALL may also be referred to as acute lymphoblastic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

The signs and symptoms of ALL may resemble other diseases or conditions.

If you have any, some, or all of these symptoms, please speak with your physician*:

  • Body aches
  • Bruising easily, or not remembering how you got a bruise
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • High fever without a reason, or a persistent low-grade fever
  • Headaches
  • Pale skin
  • Pinhead-sized red spots under the skin
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness, lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss

*From the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society