Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

What Is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia?

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a form of blood cancer that develops from immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, in the bone marrow. It is also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In ALL, lymphocytes can spread to other parts of the body, including the spleen, liver, brain, spinal cord, testicles and lymph nodes.

ALL is referred to as "acute" because it can occur suddenly and progress very quickly. Recent advances in the development of treatments have significantly lengthened the lives of patients diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Learn more about acute lymphocytic leukemia symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, RWJBarnabas Health’s compassionate team of experts in blood cancer will work together to create a personalized treatment plan that is right for you.

Why Choose Us for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Care

In partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, we have the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, meeting the highest standards in cancer research, treatment, prevention and education in the nation. We offer the most advanced treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants, targeted therapy and access to clinical trials, many of which are not available elsewhere.

Logos of The Rutgers Cancer Center of New Jersey-Rutgers Health and NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center
New Jersey’s Largest Network of Cancer Specialists

We offer access to New Jersey’s largest network of cancer specialists, including nationally and internationally recognized hematologists/oncologists, radiation oncologists, advanced practice nurses and oncology support professionals with advanced credentials in cancer specialty care with expertise in blood cancers.

Oncology Nurse Navigators Guide You Through Your ALL Journey

Nurse navigators help secure appointments, coordinate follow-up visits related to treatments and procedures, and guide you through aspects of survivorship.

To contact one of New Jersey’s best blood cancer specialists call
844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Symptoms

ALL symptoms can include:

  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or low energy

More severe symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia can include:

  • Frequent infections
  • Bone pain
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Lumps or swollen lymph nodes
  • Frequent or severe nosebleeds

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Diagnosis

To diagnose leukemia, a doctor will conduct a thorough medical history, gather important information regarding how long a patient has had symptoms, the types of symptoms, and whether the patient has been exposed to any risk factors. The doctor may order any of the following tests to make a diagnosis:

  • Blood tests. May reveal an abnormal white blood cell count (too high or too low), a low red blood cell and platelet count, or the presence of blast cells – immature cells found in the bone marrow.
  • Bone marrow test. A needle is used to remove a small sample of bone marrow from the hipbone or breastbone. The sample is sent to the laboratory and examined for leukemia cells, categorizing them based on their size, shape, and molecular features.
  • Imaging tests. An X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound may be ordered to determine if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Spinal fluid test. Used to determine if cancer cells have spread to the spinal fluid – the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. During a spinal tap, a small sample of spinal fluid is collected and then tested for cancer cells.

State-of-the-Art Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment

Working together with your healthcare team, we will develop an individualized treatment plan.

When developing a treatment plan, we will consider:

  • B or T cell lymphocyte involvement
  • Genetic changes present in leukemia cells
  • Age
  • Lab test results

ALL treatment options can include:

  • Chemotherapy. This is the main way to treat ALL. It uses medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines may be injected into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to prevent cancer growth or to reach cancer cells around the brain and nervous system in what is known as intrathecal chemotherapy or central nervous system prophylaxis.
  • Radiation therapy. This type of therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used to kill or prevent the spread of cancer in the nervous system. It may be used right before a stem cell transplant. Or in rare cases, it may be done to shrink a tumor.
  • Stem cell transplant with high-dose chemotherapy. If the normal doses of chemotherapy do not work, a doctor may prescribe very high doses of chemotherapy. These high doses can damage the stem cells in bone marrow. These cells, known as blood stem cells, are important because they are the “starter” cells for new blood cells. In some cases, before chemotherapy, the doctor removes some stem cells from a volunteer donor and freezes them. They are then given to the patient after treatment to restore the body's lost blood cells in what is known as a stem cell transplant.
  • Targeted therapy. These are medicines that target abnormal proteins, such as those made by the Philadelphia chromosome. The drugs are taken in pill form.

View Leukemia Clinical Trials

Facts About Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

  • ALL is a rare disease that makes up less than 1 percent of the diagnosed cancer cases in the United States each year.
  • Children younger than age 5 have the highest risk of ALL.
  • The 5-year ALL survival rate for patients under age 20 is 89 percent according to the American Cancer Society.

Questions? Contact Us

Your team at RWJBarnabas Health is here to address any questions or concerns that you might have. We will help you understand how you will feel and function during and after treatment.

Together, you and your RWJBarnabas Health care team will craft a treatment plan that is right for you.

To contact one of New Jersey’s best blood cancer specialists call
844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

Patient Stories

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