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.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL)
Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell
750 / year in the UK
254 in 2017
Nearly half of all ALL patients are under 10 years old
A combination of chemotherapy drugs and possibly a stem cell transplant
ALL is more common in men than women
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 for parents.
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.
‘I had my transplant on 8 February 2012, a date that will forever be ingrained in my memory. For a grand total of 15 minutes, my donor’s stem cells were pushed through my Hickman line into my bloodstream.’
Beth, who received a stem cell transplant to treat her ALL. Read her story here.
Some of our transplant recipients have also been kind enough to share their experience of treatment for ALL. You can read their stories here: