Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

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Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells in the bone marrow. When white blood cells have leukemia they are not able to fight infections.

ALL also causes the bone marrow to make too many of these cells. The overgrowth makes it difficult for other blood cells like red blood cells or platelets to develop. Low levels of other blood cells can cause a variety of symptoms such as bleeding problems, fatigue and shortness of breath.

The cause of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is unknown. 

Risk Factors 

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is more common in white males and adults over 70 years of age. Other factors that have been associated with an increased chance of ALL include:

  • Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment
  • Exposure to atomic bomb radiation or nuclear reactor accident
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides or benzene 
  • Certain genetic disorders

Factors that may increase the chance of ALL in children include:

  • Having a brother or sister with leukemia
  • Exposure to X-rays before birth
  • Exposure to radiation, including X-rays and CT scans
  • Previous chemotherapy or other treatment that weakens the immune system

Symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

You should see a doctor if you or your child is experiencing:

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Pale skin
  • Night sweats
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach, or groin
  • Swelling of the liver and/or spleen


Your doctor will check for swelling of the liver, spleen or lymph nodes and look for abnormal cells in blood tests or through bone marrow biopsy. Other tests used for leukemia diagnosis include cytogenetic analysis, immunophenotyping, lumbar picture and X-rays.


Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
  • Biologic


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.