Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), or acute lymphocytic leukemia, is a type of cancer of the white blood cells. Symptoms can include bleeding, bruising, anemia, and infections. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for ALL.

ALL can affect adults and children, though it is more common in children.

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

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Common symptoms of childhood ALL can include:

Other symptoms can include:

Numerous conditions may cause these symptoms. It is best to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis if a child experiences any of these symptoms.

Learn more about the symptoms of ALL.

Childhood ALL occurs when there is a genetic mutation in the stem cells of the bone marrow. Immature white blood cells called lymphocytes develop in the bone marrow and are released into the bloodstream.

These cells multiply and prevent the production of healthy blood cells.

Experts do not know exactly what causes this to happen. However, they have identified certain factors that may increase a child’s risk of ALL. These include:

  • viral infections
  • having a genetic condition such as Down syndrome or Fanconi anemia
  • exposure to high levels of benzene and other industrial chemicals
  • exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation before birth or in the early years

More research into the cause and risk factors of ALL is necessary.

Learn more about the causes and risk factors of leukemia.

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for childhood ALL. There are three main phases of treatment:

  • the induction phase, which focuses on eradicating the leukemia cells and putting the condition into remission
  • the consolidation phase, which focuses on ridding the body of any remaining cancer cells to reduce the risk of a relapse
  • the maintenance phase, which focuses on destroying any remaining cancer cells not targeted during the induction or consolidation phase

A child may receive chemotherapy during all three phases of treatment.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Other treatments they may receive include:

The child’s doctor will explain what each treatment involves and how long they expect each phase to last. According to Blood Cancer UK, the entire treatment typically takes about 2 years.

Learn more about leukemia treatments.

To reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may first take a complete medical history, ask questions about the child’s symptoms, and perform a physical examination.

They may then order various tests to confirm the diagnosis. Possible tests include:

  • a complete blood count, which is a blood test to measure levels of white blood cells and platelets
  • a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, which involves removing fluid and a sample of bone for laboratory analysis
  • a lumbar puncture, which involves removing a sample of fluid from around the spine
  • a chest X-ray, which can show any cells in the thymus in the upper chest that may affect breathing

The doctor can explain the tests and answer any questions about what they involve.

Childhood ALL is the most common type of cancer in children. It accounts for around 25% of all cancer diagnoses in children under the age of 15 years.

Each year, around 40 in every 1 million people ages 0–14 years are diagnosed with ALL in the United States. Around 21 in every 1 million people ages 15–19 years are diagnosed with ALL.

Around 3,100 people under the age of 20 years are diagnosed with ALL in the U.S. each year.

Learn more about childhood leukemia.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year survival rate for childhood ALL in 2020 was around 90% for children under the age of 15 years. This is an increase from 60% in 1975.

Between 1975 and 2020, the 5-year survival rate also increased from 28% to over 75% for people ages 15–19 years.

It is important to note that the outlook will differ for each child. The child’s doctor will discuss the outlook regarding their specific circumstances.

The survival rate refers to 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 receiving the 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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Childhood ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer. It happens when a genetic mutation causes immature white blood cells to release into the bloodstream. The exact cause of this is unclear.

Symptoms of childhood ALL can vary but may include bruising or bleeding easily, anemia, and increased infections. Treatment for childhood ALL focuses on chemotherapy. Other possible treatments include radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and stem cell transplant.

It is important to contact a doctor for advice if a child experiences symptoms of ALL. The doctor will be able to diagnose ALL with tests such as a complete blood count and bone marrow aspiration and biopsy.