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All About Acute Lymphoblastic LeukAemia (ALL)

Your Health / Conditions / Cancer / All About Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL)

Published on Mar 8, 2022
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Medically reviewed by Pfizer Oncology Team

   

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or ALL, is the most common type of childhood cancer, affecting more children than adults.1 In fact, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is responsible for nearly 20% of all cancer cases in children, adolescents, and young adults under the age of 20.2
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What is ALL?

ALL is a rare form of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside the bone. This type of leukaemia specifically affects the body’s lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. In ALL, the body creates immature, abnormal blood cells instead of mature ones; and these immature blood cells do not work as they should.​​​​​​​

The term “acute” is used in ALL because it is a fast-growing cancer and can spread to other areas of the body. Unfortunately, ALL can be deadly if not diagnosed or treated right away.

Who can get ALL?

ALL can occur at any age, however it is more commonly seen in children—typically between the ages of 0-14—than adults. In addition, data shows that it is also more common in males than females.1

What causes ALL?

The exact reasons why ALL occurs are not fully known, but researchers believe it has to do with mutations, or changes, in the genes that control blood development. Ongoing research is being conducted in order to understand why these cellular changes occur in the first place.

Through this research, experts have identified numerous risk factors—both genetic and environmental—that may put a person more at risk for being diagnosed with ALL. 

Those risk factors include:

  • A family history of leukaemia
  • Exposure to certain chemicals or high levels of radiation, for instance, after receiving chemotherapy treatment
  • High levels of radiation, for instance, after receiving chemotherapy treatment​​​​​​​
  • ​​​​​​​Blood disorder
  • Genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome or Bloom Syndrome

What are the signs of ALL? How does it affect the body?

The signs of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia are mostly due to low blood count. In addition to low blood count, the blood cells that are present in the body are not working properly.

​​​​​​​This can lead to many symptoms, which include:

  • Anemia and ongoing fatigue (related to a low blood count)
  • Recurrent infections that don’t heal quickly or become re-infected​​​​​​
  • Frequent bruising and/or bleeding easily​​​
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale complextion
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes and / or swollen abdomen
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  • What does it mean if you have ALL?​​​​​​

    ALL requires medical treatment as soon as it is diagnosed. Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has improved greatly in the last several years, however, children who are diagnosed with ALL tend to have better outcomes than adults.1

    Treatment for ALL can include chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, targeted therapy drugs, bone marrow transplant, and immunotherapy. Some experts believe that the reason children have better outcomes as opposed to adults is that their bodies are younger and are better able to handle aggressive treatments. Others believe there are more research and clinical trials being conducted for child leukaemia, which may improve outcomes for younger people over adults.3​​​​​​​

    The bottom line is that research has come a long way. There are now more therapies and treatment methods that can help people with ALL live longer lives. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with ALL, it’s imperative to get medical treatment as soon as possible. Your medical team of doctors and specialists can help you navigate the process, finding the best, most advanced treatment that works for you. 

      References

      1. leukaemia.org.au. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Available here: https://www.leukaemia.org.au/blood-cancer-information/types-of-blood-cancer/leukaemia/acute-lymphoblastic-leukaemia/. Accessed March 1, 2021.
      2. lls.org. Childhood Blood Cancer Facts and Statistics. Available here: https://www.lls.org/facts-and-statistics/overview/childhood-blood-cancer-facts-and-statistics. Accessed March 1, 2021.
      3. Sallan, Stephen. “Myths and Lessons from the Adult/Pediatric Interface in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program: Jan 2006. Available here: https://ashpublications.org/hematology/article/2006/1/128/19814/Myths-and-Lessons-from-the-Adult-Pediatric. Accessed on Feb 28, 2021.

      Last reviewed 07/2021
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      PP-PFO-AUS-0027

      ​​​​​​​External Resources

      -Leukaemia Foundation

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