What is it?
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. ALL is characterised by an overproduction of immature white blood cells, called lymphoblasts or leukaemic blasts. These cells crowd the bone marrow, preventing it from making normal blood cells. They can also spill out into the blood stream and circulate around the body. Due to their immaturity they are unable to function properly to prevent or fight infection. Inadequate numbers of red cells and platelets being made by the amrrow cause anaemia, and easy bleeding and/or bruising.
How common is it?
Each year in Australia around 304 people are diagnosed with ALL*. Overall, ALL is a rare disease, accounting for 0.3 per cent of all cancers diagnosed.
Who gets it?
ALL can occur at any age but is more common in young children (0-14 years) who represent close to 60 per cent of all cases. ALL is the most common type of childhood leukaemia, and the most common childhood cancer. It is more common in males than in females.
What causes ALL?
The exact causes of ALL remain largely unknown but it is thought to result from mutations in one or more of the genes that normally control blood cell development . Research is going on all the time into possible causes of this damage and certain factors have been identified that may put some people at an increased risk. These include exposure to:
- very high doses of radiation either accidentally (nuclear accident) or therapeutically (to treat other cancers)
- industrial chemicals like benzene, pesticides and certain types of chemotherapy used to treat other cancers.
Certain types of infections and the way in which the immune system reacts may play a role in the development of some types of ALL.