14 Jul 2011

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)

ALL; Acute childhood leukemia; Cancer - acute childhood leukemia (ALL); Leukemia - acute childhood (ALL)

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a fast-growing cancer of a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells are found in the bone marrow and other parts of the body.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) occurs when the the body produces a large number of immature white blood cells, called lymphocytes. The cancer cells quickly grow and replace normal cells in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form blood cells. ALL prevents healthy blood cells from being made. Life-threatening symptoms can occur.
This type of leukemia usually affects children ages 3 - 7. It is the most common childhood acute leukemia. However, the cancer may also occur in adults.
Most of the time, there is no obvious cause. However, the following may play a role in the development of leukemia in general:
    Certain chromosome problems
    Exposure to radiation, including x-rays before birth
    Past treatment with chemotherapy drugs
    Receiving a bone marrow transplant
    Toxins such as benzene
The following increases your risk for this ALL:
    Down syndrome or other genetic disorders
    A brother or sister with leukemia
Symptoms
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) makes you more likely to bleed and develop infections. Symptoms include:
    Bone and joint pain
    Easy bruising and bleeding (such as bleeding gums, skin bleeding, nosebleeds, abnormal periods)
    Feeling weak or tired
    Fever
    Loss of appetite and weight loss
    Paleness
    Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs
    Pinpoint red spots on the skin (petechiae)
    Swollen glands (lymphadenopathy) in the neck, under arms, and groin
    Night sweats
Note: These symptoms can occur with other conditions. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific symptoms.
Cipher and tests
A physical exam may reveal the following:
    Bruising
    Swollen liver, lymph nodes, and spleen
    Signs of bleeding (petechiae, purpura)
Blood tests may include:
    Complete blood count (CBC), including white blood cell (WBC) count
    Platelet count
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
    Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to check for leukemia cells in the spinal fluid
Tests are also done to look for chromosome changes in the cells of some leukemias. Leukemias with certain types of chromosome changes have a poor outlook, while those with other types of genes can have a very good outlook. This may determine what kind of treatment you receive.
Action (Treatment)
The goal of treatment is to get the blood counts back to normal. If this occurs and the bone marrow looks healthy under the microscope, the cancer is said to be in remission.
Chemotherapy is used to treat this type of leukemia.
    The first time you receive chemotherapy, you may need to stay in the hospital for several weeks.
    Later you may receive chemotherapy as an outpatient, meaning you come to a clinic to receive the treatment
If you have a low white blood cell count, you may need to be placed in a hospital room by yourself so you do not catch an infection.
ALL may spread to the brain and spinal cord. Chemotherapy drugs givent through a vein cannot reach these areas. Therefore, you may also receive:
    Chemotherapy given directly into the space around your brain or in the spinal column
    Radiation therapy to the brain
You may also receive chemotherapy from time to time to prevent the cancer from coming back.
If your leukemia returns or does not respond to other treatments, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant is usually recommended. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant may also be recommended if you have a brother or sister who is a complete match, or if you have a high-risk type of leukemia.
Additional treatments depend on other symptoms. They may include:
    Transfusion of blood products, such as platelets or red blood cells
    Antibiotics to fight infection, especially if a fever occurs
References
    Pui CH, Robison LL, Look AT. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Lancet. 2008 Mar 22;371(9617):1030-43. [PubMed]

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