Skip to main content

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a blood cancer that stops the white blood cells of your immune system growing properly.

It involves blood cells called lymphocytes that develop from stem cells in your bone marrow.

Before these cells are fully formed, they’re called lymphoblasts (immature lymphocytes). Your body needs to make new lymphocytes – but when you have ALL, this process doesn’t work properly. Instead, the lymphoblasts grow too quickly and cannot function properly. These cells can also ‘clog up’ your bone marrow and prevent it from making other blood cells. 

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.

Some types of ALL are characterised by the ‘Philadelphia Chromosome’, which is also found in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). The presence of this genetic alteration enables doctors to give Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (TKIs), a targeted treatment that should be effective.   

Anybody can get ALL, but it’s the most common type of childhood cancer. It’s an acute condition, meaning symptoms can develop quickly – so it’s very important that treatment is started as soon as possible.  

More information on ALL is available on the Blood Cancer UK and Leukaemia Care websites.

ALL facts

Name: 
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL)

Cell type: 
Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell

Frequency:
803 / year in the UK

UK transplants:
230 in 2019

Risk: 
Nearly half of all ALL patients are under 10 years old

Treatment:
A combination of chemotherapy drugs and possibly a stem cell transplant

Other information:
ALL is more common in men than women

Links:
leukaemiacare.org.ukbloodcancer.org.uk

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, we have more advice here.

Most transplants for ALL are allograft 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 decide it’s a better option than other non-curative treatments.

Living with ALL 

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. Read his story here.

Many more patient stories are available in our Blogs section.

Information published: 11/02/21
Next review due: 11/02/24    

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant

Get support from us

Patients and Families Forum

Patient Information Forum – Trusted Information Creator