Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Leukemia is cancer caused by abnormal white blood cells. These cells are produced in bone marrow and normally help the body fight infection.

The most common type of leukemia in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). In this disease, the body produces too many lymphoblasts (a type of white blood cell) and they become cancerous. 

What Causes Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)?

Medical experts don’t know the specific cause of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Some risk factors that may be involved include:

  • Inherited defects
  • Radiation exposure 

Symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Common signs and symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can occur in other illnesses. You should see your pediatrician if your child has any of the following:

  • Unexplained fever and headaches
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, arm pits, or groin
  • Pain in the arms, legs, or back
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Tiny red spots in the skin
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

How Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) Diagnosed?

If your pediatrician suspects that your child has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he or she will perform further tests to confirm a diagnosis:

  • Complete medical evaluation
  • Blood tests to evaluate red and white blood cell count and platelet count
  • Needle aspiration or biopsy to check for any problems with cells or genes in bone marrow
  • Further examination of these tests to determine the subtype of acute lymphoblastic leukemia your child may have

Treatments for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Early treatment is important to ensure that your child can completely recover. Treatments that we recommend at Children’s National include:

  • Chemotherapy to damage or kill abnormal lymphoblasts (white blood cells)
  • Stem cell transplantation in select cases from a healthy donor to regrow healthy red and white blood cells and platelets

Learn more about our Leukemia/Lymphoma Program at Children’s National.

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Christophers Story

Christopher's Story

Christopher Melkonian was six years old when he came down with a low-grade fever and diffuse bone pain. Unsure of what was happening, his parents Darlene and David took him to Children’s National Health System and soon found out that Christopher had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood and bone marrow cancer that affects white blood cells.

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