Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Alternate Names : ALL
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is cancer of the lymph cells, a type of white blood cell. While ALL is known as the childhood form of leukemia, 20% of the people who develop the disease are adults.
What is going on in the body?
When the body has an infection, the number of lymph cells often rises sharply. These cells play a role in fighting off infection. When a person has ALL, the lymph cells do not mature enough to do their job. The cells become malignant, and their growth is unchecked. The abnormal cells can build up in the bone marrow, blood, and other tissues.
Generally, the abnormal cells crowd out normal blood cells and cause the following problems:
anemia, or a low red blood cell count
bleeding problems due to poorly working blood-clotting cells, called platelets
loss of normal white blood cell function, which increases the risk of infection
a need for red blood cell transfusions
Other white blood cells help in immune monitoring and healing. ALL can compromise or even stop all of these functions. The buildup of abnormal lymph cells can enlarge or infiltrate any organ in the body, including lymph nodes and the brain.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
ALL is thought to have many causes, including:
exposure to radiation
exposure to toxins
gene or chromosome abnormalities that are passed on from parent to child
a poorly working immune system
viruses that affect the immune system
It is known that people:
who have AIDS are at higher risk for lymphatic cancers, including ALL.
who have been treated for other cancers can get ALL. This is called a secondary leukemia.
who have Down syndrome may be at higher risk for ALL.