Leukemia Home > Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

In adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia, too many stem cells develop into a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. This may cause infection, anemia, and easy bleeding. Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect and diagnose this condition. Current treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy with stem cell transplant.

What Is Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Also called acute lymphocytic leukemia, this is a cancer that usually progresses quickly if it is not treated.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia accounts for about 3,800 new cases of leukemia each year. Although ALL is the most common type of leukemia in young children, it also affects adults.
(Click Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for more information on this particular condition.)

Understanding the Blood Cells

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 lymphoblastic leukemia, too many stem cells develop into a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. These may also be called lymphoblasts or leukemia cells.
There are three types of lymphocytes:
  • 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 lymphoblastic 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 lymphoblastic leukemia can also spread to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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