Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Condition 101

What is the definition of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a fast-growing cancer of a type of white blood cell called a lymphoblast.

ALL occurs when the bone marrow produces a large number of immature lymphoblasts. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form all blood cells. The abnormal lymphoblasts grow quickly and replace normal cells in the bone marrow. ALL prevents healthy blood cells from being made. Life-threatening symptoms can occur as normal blood counts drop.

What are the alternative names for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

ALL; Acute lymphoblastic leukemia; Acute lymphoid leukemia; Acute childhood leukemia; Cancer - acute childhood leukemia (ALL); Leukemia - acute childhood (ALL); Acute lymphocytic leukemia

What are the causes for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Most of the time, no clear cause can be found for ALL.

The following factors may play a role in the development of all types of leukemia:

  • 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 factors are known to increase the risk for ALL:

  • Down syndrome or other genetic disorders
  • A brother or sister with leukemia

This type of leukemia usually affects children ages 3 to 7. ALL is the most common childhood cancer, but it can also occur in adults.

What are the symptoms for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

ALL makes a person 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 from an enlarged liver or spleen
  • Pinpoint red spots on the skin (petechiae)
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, under arms, and groin
  • Night sweats

These symptoms can occur with other conditions. Talk to a health care provider about the meaning of specific symptoms.

What are the current treatments for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

The first goal of treatment is to get 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 the first treatment tried with the goal of achieving a remission.

  • The person may need to stay in the hospital for chemotherapy. Or it can be given at a clinic and the person goes home afterward.
  • Chemotherapy is given into the veins (by IV) and sometimes into the fluid around the brain (the spinal fluid).

After a remission is achieved, more treatment is given to achieve a cure. This treatment can include more IV chemotherapy or radiation to the brain. Stem cell or, bone marrow, transplant from another person may also be done. Further treatment depends on:

  • Age and health of the person
  • Genetic changes in the leukemia cells
  • How many courses of chemotherapy it took to achieve remission
  • If abnormal cells are still detected under the microscope
  • Availability of donors for stem cell transplant

You and your provider may need to manage other concerns during your leukemia treatment, including:

  • Having chemotherapy at home
  • Managing your pets during chemotherapy
  • Bleeding problems
  • Dry mouth
  • Eating enough calories
  • Safe eating during cancer treatment

What are the support groups for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Those who respond to treatment right away tend to do better. Most children with ALL can be cured. Children often have a better outcome than adults.

What are the possible complications for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Both leukemia itself and the treatment can lead to many problems such as bleeding, weight loss, and infections.

When should I contact a medical professional for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Call your provider if you or your child develops symptoms of ALL.

How do I prevent Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

The risk of developing ALL may be reduced by avoiding contact with certain toxins, radiation, and chemicals.


Carroll WL, Bhatla T. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In: Lanzkowsky P, Lipton JM, Fish JD, eds. Lanzkowsky's Manual of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. 6th ed. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Academic Press; 2016:chap 18.

National Cancer Institute website. Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment (PDQ) - health professional version. Updated January 22, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2020.

National Cancer Institute website. Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment (PDQ) - health professional version. Updated February 6, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2020.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network website. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology: acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Version 4.2017. Updated January 15, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2020.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
  • Condition: Hematologic Malignancies
  • Journal: Zhonghua xue ye xue za zhi = Zhonghua xueyexue zazhi
  • Treatment Used: Antithymocyte Globulin in Haploid Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Number of Patients: 288
  • Published —
The study researched the use of antithymocyte globulin in haploid hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for treating hematologic malignancies.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Philadelphia Chromosome-positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Journal: Zhonghua xue ye xue za zhi = Zhonghua xueyexue zazhi
  • Treatment Used: Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Number of Patients: 116
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in treating Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Journal: Zhongguo shi yan xue ye xue za zhi
  • Treatment Used: CCLG-ALL 2008
  • Number of Patients: 940
  • Published —
In this study, researchers evaluated the long-term effectiveness of CCLG-ALL 2008 for the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Refractory/Relapsed Philadelphia Chromosome-Positive Acute B-Precursor Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Journal: Zhonghua xue ye xue za zhi = Zhonghua xueyexue zazhi
  • Treatment Used: CD19-Targeted CAR-T Cell Therapy
  • Number of Patients: 14
  • Published —
This study evaluated the safety and effectiveness of CD19-targeted CAR-T cell therapy in patients with refractory/relapsed Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute B-precursor lymphoblastic leukemia (type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, which is a type of white blood cell).

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Procedure
  • Participants: 350
  • Start Date: September 9, 2020
Cardiovascular Reserve Evaluation in Survivors of Transplantation (CREST)
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 180
  • Start Date: September 2020
Hypertension Intervention to Reduce Osteonecrosis in Children With Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia/Lymphoma
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 42
  • Start Date: September 2020
CRSPA: Phase I/II Study of CM4620 to Reduce the Severity of Pancreatitis Due to Asparaginase