Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia


What is it?

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a form of blood cancer. Cancer is when cell growth gets out of control; too many cells are made in an unorganised manner which cause the symptoms and problems of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.


Who gets it?

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is the most common form of any cancer in childhood. It is much rarer for an adult to get it, when adults do get this form of leukaemia it is most commonly in the age range of 15-24 years. The exact cause of the disease is unknown.


What are the symptoms?

Patients are usually quite poorly when diagnosed as their bone marrow The tissue in the hollow areas of bones. This produces the blood cells is not working properly. Patients typically have infections, fevers, sweats, feel tired, feel worn out and can be breathless. Some patients experience bleeding episodes such as nose bleeds or bleeding into the skin forming bruises, this is because the blood clots less easily. Patients often have lumps in their neck or armpits due to lymph node swelling. The spleenAn organ in the left upper abdomen which removes old red blood cells from the blood and liverAn organ in the right upper abdomen which has many functions including the removal of toxic substances from the blood and production many vital nutrients. can be enlarged and patients may feel this as lumps under their rib cage. Children can often have bone pain too.


How is it diagnosed?

Blood tests are required but more detailed and important information is needed, this is provided by a bone marrow biopsy. A chest Xray is needed and often parts of the body will need a CT scan.


How is it treated?

Often several treatments are started straight away which include antibiotics and a fluid drip. Blood transfusionsA blood transfusion is similar to receiving a fluid drip but blood is transfused into a vein and not fluid. A cannula is inserted into a vein, this is a small plastic tube which is removed afterwards, to enable the transfusion to be performed. Transfusions take around 3 hours. may also be required.

Chemotherapy is the main treatment against the cancer. Chemotherapy in the childhood form of the disease has favourable outcomes with a cure rate of 80%.


Further information

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at Macmillian cancer support

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at NHS choices



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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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