Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of leukemia in young children. It is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that causes a sudden increase in the number of immature blood cells until they crowd out the normal cells in the bone marrow and then spread to other organs throughout the body. A few decades ago the survival rate was extremely low, but now, with the advances weâ€™ve made in the treatment processes, the National Cancer Institute reports that survival stats are 66.4% for all ages and 90.8% for kids under five years old.
ALL accounts for about 70% of all childhood leukemia cases and it has a peak incident rate at two to five years old. The risk of incident decreases with age, until about 50 years old when it starts to spike again. One of the problems at either age is making the right diagnosis based on the symptoms.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia can manifest as persistent weakness and fatigue, anemia, excessive or unexplained bruising and bleeding, bone and joint pain, petechia, swollen lymph nodes, and fevers or infections. Taken individually, all of these symptoms could be attributed to other sicknesses or diseases, which is why there must be medical tests performed to be sure.
Just like any other serious condition, the earlier ALL is detected, the more effective the treatment will be. How you are treated will be based on things like your age, overall health, medical history, tolerance for specific medications and procedures, and a range of other factors. Most often, the actual leukemia treatment can be divided into three distinct phases.
- Induction â€“ This phase is meant to aggressively attack and kill of the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow in order to induce remission. The goal is to get the level of leukemic blasts in the bone marrow to less than 5% where there should also be a reduction in other signs and symptoms of the disease.
- Consolidation â€“ After the initial attack on the leukemia cells, there is a shift to the consolidation phase to pick off all the stragglers. This is generally aimed at destroying the cancer cells left in the brain and spinal cord, and it may involve delivering the drugs straight into the central nervous system fluid.
- Maintenance â€“ In this phase preventative measures are taken to stop the leukemia from growing back. The goal is to avoid any kind of relapse, and drugs, vaccines, and antibodies are all valid treatment methods, though it will be at a lower dose than in the more aggressive phases.
We are continuing to develop new treatments for leukemia and making our current practices even more effective. Depending on the treatment phase and the patientâ€™s medical history and progression of the cancer, doctors may use a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy (aiming at the specific abnormalities that make it possible for cancer cells to grow and thrive), and stem cell transplantation. The survival rate for leukemia patients continues to rise as we work with, and develop, these treatment methods.
Donâ€™t wait to seek treatment if you or a loved one begins experiencing a number of these symptoms. The earlier you get tested, the more effective your doctors can be.