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  Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is a blood cancer in which the white blood cells are rapidly over produced in the body. White blood cells are called lymphocytes and are found in the blood and bone marrow – among other places. Bone marrow is tissue within the bone that produces red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells fight infection and platelets make clots (which depending on the location in the body – clots are good or bad). In a healthy body the bone marrow makes cells that are called blasts. These blasts grow or mature into several types of blood cells.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Besides the blood and bone marrow, lymphocytes (white blood cells) are found in lymph – the clear, fluid in the lymph vessels. Lymph vessels are like blood vessels in that they are tunnels – or attachments. Lymph vessels connect lymph notes. Lymph node clusters can be found in the underarm, the pelvis, the neck and the abdomen. Lymphocytes are also found in the spleen. The spleen is an organ found in the upper abdomen, below the rib cage. The spleen produces lymphocytes and filters the old blood cells from the blood. They thymus and the tonsils are also part of the lymph system.

Typically developing lymphocytes do not become to numerous in the body.


Symptoms for ALL are extremely similar to the flu or other common diseases, including a persistent fever, weakness, exhaustion, and an ache in the joints or bones. Swollen lymph nodes may or may not present – depending on the state of the disease.


Acute Lymphobalstic Leukemia is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms indicate a variety of other common diseases. A blood test which counts the number of the different types of blood cells in relation to each other will indicate whether a bone marrow biopsy should be performed or not.

A bone marrow biopsy is performed via two methods – an aspiration using a small needle for a smaller portion of bone marrow tissue or a traditional bone marrow biopsy that uses a larger need to remove a piece of the bone or a larger portion of marrow tissue. The bone marrow is examined under a microscope to look for leukemia cells.

A spinal tap is also used to diagnose leukemia – in some cases. A spinal tap is a procedure in which a needle is inserted through the gaps in the vertebrae to remove spinal fluid. Spinal fluid surrounds the brain and spine.


Treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia depends on the types of cells present in the biopsy and the spinal tap, the health and the age of the patience. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia requires an immediate treatment plan, because the growth is rapid. Getting a second opinion as soon as possible with any cancer is always recommended.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia treatments are oriented toward the goal of remission and cure. The first stage of treatment has been referred to as induction therapy and the goal is to eradicate as many leukemia cells as quickly as possible. The second state of treatment has been referred to as either maintenance or continuation therapy. The goal of this therapy is to continue to kill of leukemia cells that may still be in the body.

The primary treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be administered via pill (orally) or needle. Chemotherapy via needle may be administered to the muscle or through the vein. Another treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is radiation. Radiation is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is usually administered from outside the body (as opposed to radioactive seeds injected into specific areas for shrinkage).

Bone marrow transplants are also performed to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. A bone marrow transplant that uses marrow from a matching donor is called an allogeneic bone marrow transplant. A leukemia patient is first treated with powerful drugs that destroy all marrow in the bones and then the marrow of the donor is administered via an intravenous drip.

A newer form of bone marrow transplant is called autologous. This transplant involves using the patients own marrow. Once bone marrow is removed from the patient it is treated with chemicals to kill the leukemia cells and frozen. The patient then undergoes treatment to destroy their existing (remaining) bone marrow and then the frozen marrow is administered to the patient. This procedure is still undergoing clinical trials.

Recurrent Adult Lymphoblastic Leukemia is leukemia in which the remission stage does not last and the leukemia returns to the patient repeatedly. This form of leukemia is treated with ongoing radiation therapy and possible a bone marrow transplant.

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