About the disease
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia affects the blood and bone marrow. This type of cancer creates abnormal blood cells, also known as immature blood cells. ALL mostly damages bone marrow, because this is where white blood cells are produced. ALL tends to develop very rapidly. It mostly affects children, although it can also develop among adults.
ALL mostly develops when abnormalities in DNA coding appear. As a result, healthy cells start to proliferate, becoming eventually malignant instead of dying off and being replaced by new cells. When there are too many white blood cells circulating, they begin to produce lymphoblasts, which is a term for leukemic white blood cells. The reason why DNA coding becomes abnormal remains unknown. Certain genetic disorders are believed to contribute to the development of ALL, but this theory has not been proved yet.
Children who have previously undergone cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, have therefore been exposed to harmful radicals, making them an at-risk group.
According to Cancer Stat Facts, there were approximately 60,000 new cases of ALL in 2016. The 5-year survival rate for this type of cancer is 59.7%.
- Bone pain
- Excessive bleeding from the gums
- Weight loss
- Nose bleeding
- A blood test is essential for diagnosing ALL. It can determine whether a person has too many white blood cells or if there are any immature cells that continue to proliferate and cause malignancy.
- Bone marrow aspiration is used for a closer examination of the patient’s bone marrow. Usually, a sample of bone marrow is taken from the patient’s hip.
- A CT and MRI scan of the patient’s brain is performed if there is reason to believe that ALL may have metastasized to the brain.
- High-intensity induction chemotherapy is used to kill as many malignant white blood cells and immature cells as possible. This aims to stop them from proliferating and to restore normal production of cells in the bone marrow. Depending on the stage the cancer has progressed to, doctors may prescribe 1 or 2 blocks of high agent drugs.
- Consolidation treatment is most commonly used after induction chemotherapy. Any remaining leukemic cells in the brain or brainstem are killed. It is mostly used in stages 2 and 3 of ALL.
- Radiation therapy of the brain is performed if ALL has metastasized to the brain. In this case, doctors use high-intensity radiation to destroy malignant cells in the affected parts of the brain.
- A stem cell transplant is performed if there is a high risk that cells will continue to proliferate and cause malignancy once the main treatment is finished. During this procedure, the affected bone marrow is replaced by healthy bone marrow from a donor.