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Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2024
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What is leukemia?

With leukemia, you have a very high white blood cell count. However, the cancerous white blood cells don't work properly, so you're likely to get infections. Those infections may be life-threatening.

Also, the cancerous white blood cells fill up your bone marrow so it can't make normal blood cells such as:

There are many different types of white blood cells but only 2 main types of leukemia:

  • Lymphocytic leukemia: cancer of lymphocytes, which are one type of white blood cell

  • Myelogenous leukemia: cancer of all the other types of white blood cells

Lymphocytic and myelogenous leukemia can be acute or chronic:

  • Acute: cancer of young cells that spreads quickly and can cause death in 3 to 6 months if untreated

  • Chronic: cancer of mature cells that spreads more slowly

What is acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)?

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, involves very young cells that should develop into lymphocytes but instead become cancerous. ALL is life-threatening.

What are the symptoms of ALL?

Early symptoms may include:

Later symptoms may include:

  • Bone or joint pain

  • Headaches, throwing up, and problems seeing, hearing, balancing, and using the muscles of your face

  • Pain or a "full" feeling in your upper belly (from a large liver and spleen)

Also, leukemia cells start to take over other organs, such as the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, testicles, and brain.

How can doctors tell if I have ALL?

How do doctors treat ALL?

Doctors treat ALL with chemotherapy Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a drug that destroys cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by shutting down cell growth. But since all cells in the body grow, chemotherapy drugs also destroy some normal cells and... read more . Chemotherapy, often called “chemo,” is one or more very strong medicines to kill your cancer cells. Other types of medicines and treatments are often used along with chemotherapy. The goal is cure. If you're cured, you have no cancer cells left in your body. If a cure isn't possible, then the goal is to decrease the number of cancer cells and keep that number low for as long as possible.

Chemotherapy may make you sicker before you get better. The medicines may:

  • Make you more likely to get infections

  • Make you need a blood transfusion

  • Make you throw up, feel weak and tired, or lose your hair

Treatment for ALL goes through 3 phases:

  • Induction

  • Consolidation

  • Maintenance

Induction involves getting several strong chemotherapy drugs. The goal of induction is to kill most or all of your cancer cells (called remission).

During induction, doctors may also give you treatments to kill any cancer cells in your brain:

Consolidation involves getting different chemotherapy drugs for a few months to keep the leukemia from coming back. Doctors may also give you:

Maintenance involves getting:

  • Chemotherapy for 2 to 3 years, sometimes in low amounts


Relapse is when a disease comes back after it has been successfully treated. Doctors consider ALL cured if it doesn’t relapse within 5 years. If your ALL comes back after treatment, doctors may do:

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