Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer that occurs when the bone marrow is affected by its inability to make healthy stems cells, and in turn, proliferating excess white blood cells. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of the blood and marrow. Normally the bone marrow produces myeloid and lymphoid stem cells, from which platelets, red blood cells, white blood cells, lymphocytes and natural killer cells are produced. In acute lymphoblastic leukemia the stem cells undergo a genetic alteration of lymphoid cells, consequently affecting the normal development of lymphocytes such as T cells and B cells, cells crucial for healthy immune system.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia found in children. While comprising of about 80% of all childhood leukemia, it is most prevalent in children 2-5 years of age. There are no direct risk factors for contracting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, however there are correlations between those who contracted the disease and very young children or adults who are white, male, and have genetic disorders, and have received previous chemotherapy or radiation treatment. For those affected with ALL, typical signs are exhibited by flu symptoms, fever, weight loss, easy bruising, or hemophilia. If left untreated, ALL may develop into thrombosis, typhlis, neuropathy, encelopathy, seizures, renal failure, and by cognitive disturbances.
The standard therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia of chemotherapy has barely evolved in the past 15-20 years, and has shown a good prognosis for up to 80% of patients. A successful treatment will depend on the patient’s age, general condition on the time of diagnosis, as well as genetic markers. Depending on the results of the cytogenetic testing, a decision will be made regarding the best suitable chemotherapeutic agent or adjunctive therapy to administer to the patient. Such adjective therapies include: induction chemotherapy, consolidation chemotherapy, maintenance chemotherapy and even cell transplantation will be recommended to the child or adult for a period of a few months up to 12 months.
Once blood levels have normalized, a bone marrow biopsy or a lumbar puncture (a procedure used to collect spinal fluid), and an MRI will be recommended in order to test for any remaining metastatic cells. Since ALL is considered a cancer of the blood, it does not contain a standard staging system and so it can be classified as only untreated, cured or recurrent, it can quickly mutate and metastasize to other parts of the body, where it can form into a tumor or various tumors throughout the body. A complete remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia often occurs within a treatment period of 2-3 years.