Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
This section is for teenagers and young adults and is about a type of cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). The other main type of leukaemia that can affect teenagers and young adults is acute myeloid leukaemia. If you have a different type of leukaemia and want to know more, please contact us.
We also have more info about:
If you’re looking for information about ALL in people of all ages, please see our general ALL section.
Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. In leukaemia, the process for making new white blood cells gets out of control. Immature white blood cells (called blasts) keep being made and build up in the bone marrow until there isn’t enough room for the bone marrow to make healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The body needs these cells to:
- help us fight infection (white cells)
- carry oxygen from the lungs around our body (red blood cells)
- stop us bleeding when we cut ourselves by clotting our blood (platelets).
Many of the symptoms of ALL are caused by having fewer than normal healthy blood cells in the body. Symptoms can include:
- looking paler than usual and feeling tired – because of too few red blood cells (anaemia)
- bruises – you may bruise more easily and it could take longer for bleeding to stop, if you have fewer blood clotting cells (platelets) than normal
- infections – because there are too few mature white blood cells to fight infection
- aches and pains in your bones
- swollen glands (lymph nodes) in your neck, under your arm or in your groin
- feeling unwell and run down
- fever and sweats – you may have a high temperature without any obvious cause, such as an infection
- headaches and visual disturbance.
There can be other reasons you may have these symptoms. But if you are worried that you may have ALL, you should see your family doctor (GP). They will examine you and refer you to a hospital if they think you need to see a specialist doctor.
We don't know exactly what causes ALL, but research is going on to try to find out.
Young people with some genetic conditions, such as Down's syndrome or Li-Fraumeni syndrome, are at an increased risk of developing ALL. A genetic condition is something you are born with.
If you're worried about ALL
If you think you have some of the symptoms of ALL you should go to your GP. They can talk to you about your symptoms and arrange any tests they think you might need.