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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a type of blood cancer that starts in the white blood cells in the bone marrow. Check out an explanation of the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it in the following review.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Please note, there are four types of leukemia, one of which is acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This type most often appears in children under the age of 5 years.

This condition occurs when white blood cells (lymphocytes) experience interference in their maturation process. As a result, white blood cells do not function normally.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia can get worse quickly and can spread to all organs of the body, such as the liver, spleen and lymph nodes. Therefore, this disease needs to be treated quickly.

Symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

The increased concentration of immature white blood cells in the spinal cord will prevent the body from carrying out its functions optimally. When the number of red blood cells decreases, several problems appear in the body.

Some of the common symptoms experienced by patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia include:

  • pale skin
  • Easily tired.
  • Recurrent infection in a short time.
  • Frequent unusual bleeding, such as bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats
  • Bone and joint pain.
  • Skin bruises easily.
  • Lump due to swollen lymph nodes.
  • Abdominal pain due to swelling of the liver or spleen.
  • Weight loss.
  • Purple skin rash.
  • Headaches, seizures, blurred vision, and dizziness when cancer cells invade the brain.

Symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can appear gradually depending on the stage of the disease. At first, the symptoms that appear may be so mild that you don’t notice them.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Immediately consult a doctor if you or your child experience symptoms that last a long time or recur.

Many cases of this disease cause flu-like symptoms. But generally flu symptoms quickly improve. If symptoms do not improve, immediately consult a doctor to get further tests.

Also Read: Is it true that burnt food can trigger cancer? Fact Check!

Causes of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

The cause of this blood cancer is DNA mutations in bone marrow cells. This causes cells to continue to grow and divide. In healthy cells, there should be a phase where the cell stops dividing and eventually dies.

This condition causes abnormal blood cell production. The spinal cord produces immature blood cells which then develop into lymphoblasts (leukemic white blood cells). These cells cannot function properly and interfere with healthy cells.

Until now, it is not known exactly what causes the DNA mutation that causes this condition.

However, there are several factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, including:

  • Age. Children and adults over the age of 50 have a higher risk of experiencing it
  • genetics. People with genetic disorders such as down syndrome, fanconi anemiaAnd klinefelter’s syndrome have a higher risk of developing this cancer.
  • Radiation exposure. Exposure occurred as a result of previous cancer treatment or during a nuclear disaster.
  • Chemical exposure. Benzene compounds present in cigarette smoke and oil refineries can increase the risk of this blood cancer.
  • Virus. Infected with a virus like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and viral T-cell leukemia may increase the risk.

Diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Diagnosis of this disease can begin with patient interviews which are then followed by a physical examination. After that the doctor will suggest some further tests that are needed.

Tests that are commonly performed to diagnose this condition include:

  • Complete blood test. Through this examination, the number of immature red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells can be determined.
  • Spinal cord aspiration. This examination is carried out by taking tissue and blood samples from the spinal cord. This sample is taken to the laboratory to be examined for tissue changes and the shape of the blood cells.
  • Imaging test. Through examination with X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans can be known the spread of cancer cells in other organs of the body.
  • Lumbar puncture. Useful for knowing the spread of cancer cells in the brain and spinal cord. This examination is carried out by taking samples of cerebrospinal fluid and spinal cord.
  • Genetic test. This test can detect genetic mutations.

Also Read: Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of leukemia in children

Treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Types of treatment that may be done to treat this disease include:

1. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is therapy using drugs to kill cancer cells. Generally this therapy is performed as induction therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and adults.

2. Targeted Therapy

This therapy uses drugs to attack specific abnormalities in cancer cells that cause these cells to grow and develop. This therapy can be used during or after chemotherapy.

3. Radiation Therapy

This therapy uses high-energy rays such as protons or X-rays. These rays will help kill cancer cells. Generally this therapy is recommended when cancer cells have spread to the central nervous system.

4. Spinal Marrow Transplant

Bone marrow transplant or cell transplant is usually used for therapy in patients who experience relapse. This procedure is performed by replacing the leukaemic bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from a donor.

The length of treatment may vary depending on the condition of each individual. Generally, this cancer treatment takes about two to three years.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia complications

If you don’t get proper treatment, this condition can cause complications, including:

  • Bleeding. Patients tend to experience bleeding more easily because the number of platelets is less.
  • Infection. Patients tend to have low body resistance so they are susceptible to infection. In addition, infection can also occur due to side effects of treatment.
  • Infertility. Side effects of medication therapy can cause infertility.

Also Read: 11 Symptoms of Lymphatic Cancer that are Rarely Noticed

Prevention of acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Although the exact cause of this condition is not known, you can prevent it by avoiding several risk factors.

Several steps can be taken to prevent acute lymphoblastic leukemia, including:

  • Always wear protective clothing and follow applicable safety procedures when in an environment filled with chemical and radioactive substances.
  • Practice safe sex to prevent transmission of HIV disease.
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Always lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain endurance.
  1. Anonymous. 2019. Overview: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acute-lymphoblastic-leukaemia/. (Accessed February 14, 2023).
  2. Anonymous. 2022. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20369077. (Accessed February 14, 2023).
  3. Brazer, Yvette. 2022. What Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/215500. (Accessed February 14, 2023).
  4. Mohamed, Abdul Wadood. 2018. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). https://www.healthline.com/health/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia-all. (Accessed February 14, 2023).
  5. Stuart, Annie. 2022. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). https://www.webmd.com/cancer/lymphoma/acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia#091e9c5e806de2ae-1-3. (Accessed February 14, 2023).

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