Disease: Acute lymphocytic leukemia

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has been recognized as one of the top Cancer hospitals in the nation for 2014-2015 by U.S. News & World Report.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.

The word "acute" in acute lymphocytic leukemia comes from the fact that the disease progresses rapidly and creates immature blood cells, rather than mature ones. The "lymphocytic" in acute lymphocytic leukemia refers to the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which ALL affects. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children, and treatments result in a good chance for a cure. Acute lymphocytic leukemia can also occur in adults, though the chance of a cure is greatly reduced.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Signs and symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia may include:

  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Bone pain
  • Fever
  • Frequent infections
  • Frequent or severe nosebleeds
  • Lumps caused by swollen lymph nodes in and around the neck, underarm, abdomen or groin
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness, fatigue or a general decrease in energy

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor or your child's doctor if you notice any persistent signs and symptoms that concern you. Many signs and symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia mimic those of the flu. However, flu signs and symptoms eventually improve. If signs and symptoms don't improve as expected, make an appointment with your doctor.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Acute lymphocytic leukemia occurs when a bone marrow cell develops errors in its DNA. The errors tell the cell to continue growing and dividing, when a healthy cell would normally stop dividing and die. When this happens, blood cell production becomes abnormal. The bone marrow produces immature cells that develop into leukemic white blood cells called lymphoblasts. These abnormal cells are unable to function properly, and they can build up and crowd out healthy cells.

It's not clear what causes the DNA mutations that can lead to acute lymphocytic leukemia. But doctors have found that most cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia aren't inherited.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

Tests and procedures used to diagnose acute lymphocytic leukemia include:

  • Blood tests. A blood test may reveal too many white blood cells, not enough red blood cells and not enough platelets. A blood test may also show the presence of blast cells — immature cells normally found in the bone marrow but not circulating in the blood.
  • Bone marrow test. During bone marrow aspiration, a needle is used to remove a sample of bone marrow from the hipbone. The sample is sent to a lab for testing to look for leukemia cells. Doctors in the lab will classify blood cells into specific types based on their size, shape and other features. They also look for certain changes in the cancer cells and determine whether the leukemia cells began from the B lymphocytes or T lymphocytes. This information helps your doctor develop a treatment plan.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests such as X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound scan may help determine whether cancer has spread to the brain and spinal cord or other parts of the body.
  • Spinal fluid test. A lumbar puncture test, also called a spinal tap, may be used to collect a sample of spinal fluid — the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The sample is tested to see whether cancer cells have spread to the spinal fluid.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

No alternative treatments have been proved to cure acute lymphocytic leukemia. But some alternative therapies may help ease the side effects of cancer treatment and make you or your child more comfortable. Discuss your options with your doctor, as some alternative treatments could interfere with cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Alternative treatments that may ease signs and symptoms include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation exercises

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Although treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia is typically very successful, it can be a long road. Treatment often lasts 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years, although the first three to six months are the most intense. During maintenance phases, children can usually live a relatively normal life and go back to school. And adults may be able to continue working. To help you cope, try to:

  • Learn enough about leukemia to feel comfortable making treatment decisions. Ask your doctor to write down as much information about your specific disease as possible. Then narrow your search for information accordingly. Write down questions you want to ask your doctor before each appointment, and look for information in your local library and on the Internet. Good sources include the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
  • Lean on your whole health care team. At major medical centers and pediatric cancer centers, your health care team may include psychologists, psychiatrists, recreation therapists, child-life workers, teachers, dietitians, chaplains and social workers. These professionals can help with a whole host of issues, including explaining procedures to children, finding financial assistance and arranging for housing during treatment. Don't hesitate to rely on their expertise.
  • Explore programs for children with cancer. Major medical centers and nonprofit groups offer numerous activities and services specifically for children with cancer and their families. Examples include summer camps, support groups for siblings and wish-granting programs. Ask your health care team about programs in your area.
  • Help family and friends understand your situation. Set up a free, personalized Web page at the not-for-profit website CaringBridge. This allows you to tell the whole family about appointments, treatments, setbacks and reasons to celebrate — without the stress of calling everyone every time there's something new to report.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Factors that may increase the risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia include:

  • Previous cancer treatment. Children and adults who've had certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other kinds of cancer may have an increased risk of developing acute lymphocytic leukemia.
  • Exposure to radiation. People exposed to very high levels of radiation, such as survivors of a nuclear reactor accident, have an increased risk of developing acute lymphocytic leukemia.
  • Genetic disorders. Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia.
  • Having a brother or sister with ALL. People who have a sibling, including a twin, with acute lymphocytic leukemia have an increased risk of ALL.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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