Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

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What is acute lymphocytic leukemia?

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a form of cancer that effects the blood and bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue within bones where blood cells are made.

In acute lymphocytic leukemia, the term acute refers to the fact that the disease progresses quickly. It also refers to the fact that the leukemia affects immature blood cells instead of mature ones. Lymphocytic refers to the fact that the cancer affects specific white blood cells, called lymphocytes. With ALL, instead of making unformed cells called blasts that would normally develop into lymphocytes, bone marrow makes blasts that are abnormal. The blasts do not develop normally and cannot do their job, which is to fight infections. They quickly crowd out the cells the body does need, including red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia is also referred to as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as well as acute childhood leukemia.

This particular type of leukemia is the most common in children. However, it can also occur in adults.

What are the symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia?

Many symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia mimic symptoms of less serious illnesses, like the flu. Symptoms can include bleeding from the gums, fever, frequent infections, frequent or severe nosebleeds, loss of appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained bruising, aches in arms, legs and back, pale skin, shortness of breath, weight loss, vomiting, and fatigue.

To diagnose acute lymphocytic leukemia doctors will run blood and bone marrow tests.

What are the risk factors and causes of acute lymphocytic leukemia?

Errors in the DNA of a bone marrow cell lead to ALL. Doctors are not sure what causes the DNA mutations in bone marrow cells. However, risk factors to getting it include past cancer therapies using chemotherapy or radiation, exposure to radiation, genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, having a sibling with ALL, or exposure to the chemical benzene.

How is acute lymphocytic leukemia treated?

The treatment of ALL is grouped into three phases. The first phase is induction therapy, in which the purpose of the treatment is to kill most of the leukemia cells in the bone marrow and blood. In the second phase of treatment, called consolidation therapy, the goal is to destroy remaining leukemia cells that may be in the brain or spinal cord. Following consolidation therapy, the goal is to prevent leukemia cells from growing again. Lastly, people may receive preventative treatment to the spinal cord, which is aimed at killing leukemia cells that may be in the central nervous system throughout all phases of treatment.

Treatments, which generally take place over a course of two to three years, may include chemotherapy, drug therapy, radiation therapy, or bone marrow stem cell transplant.

What if I have been exposed to benzene?

Benzene is a colorless or light colored, sweet smelling chemical. It evaporates quickly, dissolves rapidly in water, and is highly flammable. Benzene occurs naturally, in volcanoes, forest fires, crude oil, and gasoline, as well as when certain chemicals are burned, as in cigarettes. It also is produced by human action and may be used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, paints, solvents, detergents, and nylon, among other items.

People may be exposed to benzene in the environment, but there are typically low levels of it in the outdoor air. People who smoke or experience second hand smoke are also at risk of benzene exposure. Individuals at greatest risk of long-term benzene exposure are those who work in the manufacture of the chemical or make products that use benzene.

In the event that you are exposed to benzene over a long period of time (a year or more) and have been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, it may be beneficial for you to seek legal advice.

A lawyer who has a great deal of knowledge about benzene and its effects can guide you through the legal process and help you determine if you can make a legal claim in relation to your benzene exposure and resulting illness.