Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
In acute lymphocytic leukemia, too many stem cells develop into a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. This may cause infection, anemia, and easy bleeding. Current treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. Treatment options and prognosis can vary among children and adults.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, which is a type of white blood cell. Acute lymphocytic leukemia, which is also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, accounts for about 3,800 new cases of leukemia each year. Although acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia in young children, it can also affect adults.
This eMedTV article discusses acute lymphocytic leukemia for both children and adults. You can click Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for more information on childhood ALL or Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for more information on adult ALL. You can also click Types of Leukemia to learn about other leukemia types.
Normally, the body produces bone marrow stem cells (immature cells) that develop into mature blood cells.
The three types of mature blood cells include:
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other materials to all tissues of the body
- White blood cells that fight infection and disease
- Platelets that help prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form.
In acute lymphocytic leukemia, too many stem cells develop into a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. These lymphocytes may also be called lymphoblasts or leukemia cells.
The three types of lymphocytes include:
- B lymphocytes that make antibodies to help fight infection
- T lymphocytes that help B lymphocytes make the antibodies that help fight infection
- Natural killer cells that attack cancer cells and viruses.
In acute lymphocytic leukemia:
- The lymphocytes are not able to fight infection very well
- The number of lymphocytes increases in the blood and bone marrow
- There is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
This may cause infection, anemia, and easy bleeding. Acute lymphocytic leukemia can also spread to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).