Acute Lymphoma Leukemia

Also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute lymphoid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common of the four major types of leukemia among children, but the least common type among adults.

ALL starts from infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow and, in most cases, invades the blood fairly quickly.  The difference between ALL and lymphoma (either Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma) is that ALL starts in the bone marrow and may spread to other places, while lymphomas start in lymph nodes or other organs and may spread to the bone marrow.

Patients with ALL are treated at our Leukemia and Lymphoma Unit. You can also review the tabs at top of this page for information on ALL symptoms, risks, and treatment.


  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Aches in arms, legs, back
  • Black and blue marks for no apparent reason
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever without obvious cause
  • Headaches
  • Pale skin
  • Pinhead-sized red spots under the skin
  • Prolonged bleeding from minor cuts
  • Shortness of breath during physical activity
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting

Risk factors

  • Exposure to high levels of radiation
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including benzene and some chemotherapy drugs
  • Certain viral infections, such as human T-cell lymphoma/leukemia virus-1 (HTLV-1) and Epstein-Barr virus
  • Some inherited syndromes such as Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia and neurofibromatosis
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to electromagnetic fields
  • Exposure to hair dye
  • Exposure to workplace chemicals and solvents


Treatment of ALL begins with intensive anti-cancer drug therapy, called chemotherapy, which is administered orally or via injection.  Generally, a combination of drugs are given over a long period of time.

About 20 to 30 percent of adult patients with ALL have an abnormal chromosome called the Philadelphia chromosome. For these patients, new drugs such as imatinib (Gleevec) and dasatinib (Sprycel) have been developed to attack their cancer cells and reduce the number of leukemia cells in their blood.

Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT)

Blood and bone marrow transplantation is a treatment option for patients with ALL. The two primary types of BMT are autologous (using your own previously harvested cells) and allogeneic (using cells from a donor). Both are preceded by high-dose chemotherapy and/or radiation, which destroy not only the cancerous cells in your body, but healthy cells as well. You will be in the hospital during this time, to ensure that you are not exposed to possible infection. Then, during the transplant procedure, you’ll receive healthy cells which make their way to your bone marrow and start producing new blood cells.

Radiation Therapy

Sometimes, radiation therapy is used for a specifically affected area, such as the spine, brain or testicles. This cancer treatment uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The radiation method used depends on the type of the cancer being treated.