Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), or acute lymphocytic leukemia, is a type of cancer affecting white blood cells. Symptoms include easy bruising or bleeding, weakness, fever, and pain. Chemotherapy is the main treatment.

ALL is an aggressive form of cancer. Without treatment, the condition can progress quickly. Being aware of the symptoms of ALL can help a person seek medical help as early as possible.

Although ALL is more common in children, it can affect adults. Children typically respond better than adults to ALL treatments, so early diagnosis is essential to ensure the best possible outcome.

Read on to find out more about ALL in adults. This article discusses symptoms and causes, treatment options, diagnosis, and more.

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The symptoms of ALL in adults can include:

There are numerous possible causes of these symptoms. It is best for a person experiencing any ALL symptoms to contact a doctor for a diagnosis.

Learn more about the symptoms of ALL.

ALL results from a genetic mutation in the stem cells in the bone marrow, which leads to the release of immature white blood cells into the bloodstream.

A damaged stem cell turns into a leukemic cell, which multiplies into lots of leukemic lymphoblasts. Leukemic lymphoblasts prevent the body from producing healthy cells. This results in a lower number of healthy cells throughout the body.

Experts do not know exactly what causes this genetic mutation. However, they have identified various factors that may increase a person’s risk of ALL.

Possible risk factors for ALL in adults include:

A person should contact a doctor if they have concerns about the risk factors for ALL.

Learn more about ALL risk groups.

The main treatment for ALL is chemotherapy. There are three phases to the treatment:

  • remission induction
  • consolidation
  • maintenance

Remission induction

During the remission induction phase, a person will receive chemotherapy to kill the leukemia cells in the bone marrow. This allows the healthy bone marrow cells to return and the blood count levels to return to normal.

This stage typically lasts for around 1 month. Examples of chemotherapy medications that doctors may use in this phase include:

  • vincristine
  • prednisone
  • dexamethasone
  • doxorubicin
  • daunorubicin

During this phase, a person may receive other treatments to improve the effectiveness of the chemotherapy, to prevent the leukemia from spreading to the central nervous system, or to kill the cancer cells if they have spread elsewhere in the body.

Possible treatments include:


The consolidation phase is typically a short course of chemotherapy. This may last for a few months.

If a person is at high risk of the leukemia coming back, a doctor may recommend stem cell transplant during this phase. If this is the case, the doctor will explain the procedure so the individual can make an informed decision about their treatment.


The maintenance phase helps ensure that the leukemia does not return. It typically lasts about 2 years.

A person will typically receive chemotherapy medications such as methotrexate and 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) during this phase.

Doctors may also recommend other medications depending on the individual’s condition.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

A doctor may begin by taking a full medical history, asking questions about symptoms, and performing a physical examination.

They may then order a blood test to measure the numbers of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

They may also order a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. This involves removing a liquid marrow sample and a small amount of bone filled with marrow for laboratory analysis.

Learn more about bone marrow biopsy.

Because the exact cause of ALL is unclear, medical experts do not know of a way to completely prevent ALL in adults.

If a person has concerns about ALL, they may wish to contact their doctor for advice. A doctor can tell the person whether they recommend regular screenings for ALL and what symptoms a person should look out for to ensure that they can receive a diagnosis as early as possible.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 6,540 new cases of ALL will occur in the United States in 2023. This includes cases in both adults and children.

Around 4 in 10 ALL cases occur in adults, and ALL accounts for less than 1% of all cancers in the United States.

The risk is highest in children under age 5. The risk declines until a person is in their mid-20s and begins to increase again once a person is over age 50.

Because ALL is an uncommon type of cancer in adults, there is limited information on life expectancy.

A study of a Dutch population between 2007 and 2012 found that people ages 60–69 years had a 5-year survival rate of 22% and those older than 70 had a 5-year survival rate of 5%. The same study found that life expectancy improved in the periods 1989–1994 and 2007–2012.

Various factors, such as a person’s age and overall health, can affect life expectancy. A person should speak with their doctor for more specific information about their outlook and their specific circumstances.

Learn more about leukemia survival rates.

The survival rate represents the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) more commonly affects children but can also occur in adults. Symptoms include easy bleeding or bruising, fever, weakness, and pain in the joints or bones.

The exact cause of ALL is unclear. It happens when a genetic mutation in stem cells causes the release of immature white blood cells into the bloodstream.

ALL treatment involves three phases: remission, consolidation, and maintenance. Each phase involves chemotherapy, and doctors may recommend other treatments at the same time.

If a person has concerns about ALL, it is important that they contact a doctor promptly, as early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for improving outcomes.