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Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

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What is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)?

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of blood cancer that stops lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) from developing properly. Lymphocytes are involved in the working of your immune system.

Lymphocytes start life as lymphoblasts (immature lymphocytes). Having ALL means that lymphoblasts grow too quickly and don’t function properly. They fill up your bone marrow, preventing it from producing all types of healthy blood cells.

ALL is an acute condition, which means it develops quickly and needs treatment as soon as possible.

You can find out more about ALL, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, on the Leukaemia Care and Blood Cancer UK websites.

Facts about ALL

  • Around 800 people a year are diagnosed with ALL in the UK.
  • ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer.
  • Nearly half of ALL patients are under 10 years old.
  • ALL is more common in men than women.
  • You will probably hear ALL referred to as either ‘B cell’ or ‘T cell’ ALL. This relates to the type of lymphocyte that is affected, and can help your doctor decide on the best course of treatment.
  • There were 234 stem cell transplants in the UK to treat ALL in 2020.

ALL and stem cell transplants

In some cases, ALL can be treated with chemotherapy alone. However, depending on the type of ALL you have, how it responds to treatment and your general health, you may be offered a stem cell transplant. Your doctor will talk to you about whether a transplant is the best option for you or your child.

If you’re a parent who’s supporting a child through a transplant, you can read our My child is having a transplant webpage for more information and support.

Most transplants for ALL are allogeneic transplants – when stem cells are donated to you by someone else. It’s very rare for ALL to be treated with an autologous transplant – when doctors use your own stem cells. This is usually only considered if a stem cell donor cannot be found and your medical team decides it’s a better option than other non-curative treatments.

I’d lost weight without trying and I was sweating excessively during the night. All I wanted to do when I got home from work was sleep. One day at work during a presentation, I passed out and fell to the floor

Scott, who had a stem cell transplant and CAR T-cell therapy to treat his ALL. You can read his story on our blog.

Information published: 16/02/22
Next review due: 16/02/23   

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant

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