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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Leukemia is cancer that affects white blood cells, which grow in bone marrow and help fight infection.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) prevents lymphoblasts, an immature type of white blood cell, from developing into mature lymphocytes.

ALL cells accumulate and crowd out healthy blood cells.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia: what you should know

ALL is the most common type of cancer and leukemia in children. It is highly curable in patients of all ages:

  • In children, the five-year survival rate is more than 85 percent.
  • In adults, about 80 to 90 percent of people with ALL are in remission after treatment. That means that leukemia cells are no longer seen in their bone marrow.
  • The overall adult cure rate is about 40 percent because about half of these patients will have a relapse.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia symptoms

  • Unexplained fever or headaches
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
  • Pinhead-sized red spots in the skin
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia risk factors

  • Genetic defects that happen during fetal development or in infancy
  • A drug called Phosphocol P32 that is sometimes used for symptoms of hemophilia (a blood disorder that prevents proper clotting)
  • Exposure to radiation therapy for other types of cancer

How can I get help for acute lymphoblastic leukemia?

Many people with ALL come to Rush after being referred by their community physicians throughout the upper Midwest. To confirm your diagnosis, the leukemia team at Rush will perform the following tests:

  • Blood tests to assess blood cell and platelet counts
  • Review of previous bone marrow studies to look for problems with chromosomes
  • Needle aspiration or biopsy (if necessary) for a new sample of bone marrow
  • Tests to assess organ function in the kidneys, liver and heart
  • Molecular test for certain markers in leukemia cells that can be targeted with specific drugs 

Care for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Rush

Early detection and treatment can be key to a complete cure of ALL. Leukemia specialists at Rush may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Chemotherapy using drugs that damage or kill abnormal lymphoblasts
  • Stem cell transplant from a healthy donor to regrow healthy red and white blood cells and platelets
  • Clinical trials for eligible patients to receive the latest medications or other treatment therapies

Why choose Rush for acute lymphoblastic leukemia care

  • The multidisciplinary team at Rush — specialists in cancer, blood, radiation therapy and stem cell transplants — meets each week to discuss new leukemia cases and determine the best course of treatment for each patient.
  • Rush offers several fertility preservation options for patients of childbearing age, including cryopreservation of sperm, in the Rush Center for Advanced Reproductive Care.
  • Children with ALL receive expert treatment from pediatric leukemia specialists at Rush. These physicians have experience and training in leukemia care for children.

Departments and programs that treat this condition