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Acute Leukemia

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Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia

General Information About Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).

Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL; also called acute lymphocytic leukemia) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if it is not treated.

Normally, the bone marrow produces stem cells (immature cells) that develop into mature blood cells. There are 3 types of mature blood cells:

  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other materials to all tissues of the body.
  • White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
  • Platelets that help prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form.

In ALL, too many stem cells develop into a type of white blood called lymphocytes. These lymphocytes may also be called lymphoblasts or leukemic cells. There are 3 types of lymphocytes:

  • B lymphocytes that make antibodies to help fight infection.
  • T lymphocytes that help B lymphocytes make the antibodies that help fight infection.
  • Natural killer cells that attack cells with cancer or a virus.

In ALL, the lymphocytes are not able to fight infection very well. Also, as the number of lymphocytes increases in the blood and bone marrow, there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may cause infection, anemia, and easy bleeding. The cancer can also spread to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Previous chemotherapy and exposure to radiation may affect the risk of developing ALL.

Possible risk factors for ALL include the following:

  • Being male.
  • Being white.
  • Being older than 70 years of age.
  • Past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Exposure to atomic bomb radiation.
  • Having a certain genetic disorder such as Down syndrome.

Possible signs of adult ALL include fever, feeling tired, and easy bruising or bleeding.

The early signs of ALL may be similar to the flu or other common diseases. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • Weakness or feeling tired.
  • Fever.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss.
  • Pain in the bones or stomach.
  • Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs.
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin.

These and other symptoms may be caused by adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia or by other conditions.

Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect (find) and diagnose adult ALL.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Complete blood count: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the blood sample made up of red blood cells.
  • Peripheral blood smear: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked for the presence of blast cells, number and kinds of white blood cells, the number of platelets, and changes in the shape of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration: The removal of a small piece of bone and bone marrow by inserting a needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the samples under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
  • Cytogenetic analysis: A test in which the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are looked at under a microscope to find out if there are certain changes in the chromosomes in the lymphocytes. For example, sometimes in ALL, part of one chromosome is moved to another chromosome. This is called the Philadelphia chromosome.
  • Immunophenotyping: A test in which the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are looked at under a microscope to find out if malignant (cancerous) lymphocytes began from the B lymphocytes or the T lymphocytes.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The age of the patient.
  • Whether the cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
  • Whether the Philadelphia chromosome is present.
  • Whether the cancer has been treated before or has recurred (come back).

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Stages of Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Once adult ALL has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or to other parts of the body.

The extent or spread of cancer is usually described as stages. It is important to know whether the leukemia has spread outside the blood and bone marrow in order to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used to determine if the leukemia has spread:

  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • Lumbar puncture: A procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column. This is done by placing a needle into the spinal column. This procedure is also called an LP or spinal tap.
  • Ultrasound: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs in the abdomen and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of the abdomen, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.

There is no standard staging system for adult ALL.

The disease is classified as untreated, in remission, or recurrent.

Untreated adult ALL

The ALL is newly diagnosed and has not been treated except to relieve symptoms such as fever, bleeding or pain.

  • The complete blood count is abnormal.
  • There are more than 5% blasts (leukemia cells) in the bone marrow.
  • There are signs and symptoms of leukemia.

Adult ALL in remission

The ALL has been treated.

  • The complete blood count is normal.
  • There are less than 5% blasts (leukemia cells) in the bone marrow.
  • There are no signs or symptoms of leukemia in the brain and spinal cord or elsewhere in the body.

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Recurrent Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Recurrent adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is cancer that has recurred (come back) after going into remission. The ALL may come back in the blood, bone marrow, or other parts of the body.

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Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with adult ALL.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the "standard" treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.

The treatment of adult ALL usually has 2 phases.

The treatment of adult ALL is done in phases:

  • Remission induction therapy: This is the first phase of treatment. Its purpose is to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow. This puts the leukemia into remission.
  • Maintenance therapy: This is the second phase of treatment. It begins once the leukemia is in remission. The purpose of maintenance therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may not be active but could begin to regrow and cause a relapse. This phase is also called remission continuation therapy.

Treatment called central nervous system (CNS) sanctuary therapy is usually given during each phase of therapy. Because chemotherapy that is given by mouth or injected into a vein may not reach leukemia cells in the CNS (brain and spinal cord), the cells are able to find "sanctuary" (hide) in the CNS. Intrathecal chemotherapy and radiation therapy are able to reach leukemia cells in the CNS and are given to kill the leukemia cells and prevent the cancer from recurring (coming back). CNS sanctuary therapy is also called CNS prophylaxis.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, a body cavity such as the abdomen, or an organ, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas. Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Intrathecal chemotherapy may be used to treat adult ALL that has spread, or may spread, to the brain and spinal cord. When used to prevent cancer from spreading to the brain and spinal cord, it is called central nervous system (CNS) sanctuary therapy or CNS prophylaxis. Intrathecal chemotherapy is given in addition to chemotherapy by mouth or vein.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. External radiation therapy may be used to treat adult ALL that has spread, or may spread, to the brain and spinal cord. When used this way, it is called central nervous system (CNS) sanctuary therapy or CNS prophylaxis.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplantation

Stem cell transplantation is a method of giving chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of a donor and are frozen for storage. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Other types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials. These include the following:

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.

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Treatment Options for Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Untreated Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Standard treatment of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) during the remission induction phase includes the following:

  • Combination chemotherapy.
  • CNS prophylaxis therapy including chemotherapy (intrathecal and/or systemic) with or without radiation therapy to the brain.

Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Remission

Standard treatment of adult ALL during the maintenance phase includes the following:

  • Combination chemotherapy.
  • High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplantation.
  • CNS prophylaxis therapy including chemotherapy (intrathecal and/or systemic) with or without radiation therapy to the brain.

Recurrent Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Standard treatment of recurrent adult ALL may include the following:

  • Combination chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplantation.
  • Low-dose radiation therapy as palliative care to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Some of the treatments being studied in clinical trials for recurrent adult ALL include the following:

  • A clinical trial of stem cell transplantation using the patient's own stem cells.
  • A clinical trial of biologic therapy.
  • A clinical trial of new chemotherapy drugs.

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General Information About Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell), red blood cells, or platelets.

Adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if it is not treated. It is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults. AML is also called acute myelogenous leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

Normally, the bone marrow produces stem cells (immature cells) that develop into mature blood cells. There are 3 types of mature blood cells:

  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other materials to all tissues of the body.
  • White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
  • Platelets that help prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form.

In AML, the stem cells usually develop into a type of immature white blood cell called myeloblasts (or myeloid blasts). The myeloblasts in AML are abnormal and do not mature into healthy white blood cells. Sometimes in AML, too many stem cells develop into abnormal red blood cells or platelets. These abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets are also called leukemia cells or blasts. Leukemia cells are unable to do their usual work and can build up in the bone marrow and blood so there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. When this happens, infection, anemia, or easy bleeding may occur. The leukemia cells can spread outside the blood to other parts of the body, including the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), skin, and gums.

There are different subtypes of AML.

The AML subtypes are based on how mature (developed) the cancer cells are at the time of diagnosis and how different they are from normal cells.

Smoking, previous chemotherapy treatment, and exposure to radiation may affect the risk of developing adult AML.

Possible risk factors for AML include the following:

  • Being male.
  • Smoking, especially after age 60.
  • Having had treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy in the past.
  • Having had treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in the past.
  • Being exposed to atomic bomb radiation or the chemical benzene.
  • Having a history of a blood disorder such as myelodysplastic syndrome.

Possible signs of adult AML include fever, feeling tired, and easy bruising or bleeding.

The early signs of AML may be like those caused by the flu or other common diseases. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
  • Weakness or feeling tired.
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss.

Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect (find) and diagnose adult AML.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patientís health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Complete blood count: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that produces it.
  • Peripheral blood smear: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked for the presence of blast cells, number and kinds of white blood cells, the number of platelets, and changes in the shape of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of a small piece of bone and bone marrow by inserting a needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone and bone marrow samples under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
  • Cytogenetic analysis: A test in which the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.
  • Immunophenotyping: A process used to identify cells, based on the types of antigens or markers on the surface of the cell. This process is used to diagnose the subtype of AML by comparing the cancer cells to normal cells of the immune system.

Once adult AML has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The extent or spread of cancer is usually described as stages. In adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the subtype of AML and whether the leukemia has spread outside the blood and bone marrow are used instead of the stage to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used to determine if the leukemia has spread:

  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • Lumbar puncture: A procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column. This is done by placing a needle into the spinal column. This procedure is also called an LP or spinal tap.
  • Ultrasound: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs in the abdomen and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.

There is no standard staging system for adult AML.

The disease is described as untreated, in remission, or recurrent.

Untreated adult AML

In untreated adult AML, the disease is newly diagnosed. It has not been treated except to relieve symptoms such as fever, bleeding, or pain and the following are true:

  • The complete blood count is abnormal.
  • At least 20% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts (leukemia cells).
  • There are signs or symptoms of leukemia.

Adult AML in remission

In adult AML in remission, the disease has been treated and the following are true:

  • The complete blood count is normal.
  • Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts (leukemia cells).
  • There are no signs or symptoms of leukemia in the brain and spinal cord or elsewhere in the body.

Recurrent Adult AML

Recurrent AML is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The AML may come back in the blood or bone marrow.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on:

  • The age of the patient.
  • The subtype of AML.
  • Whether the patient received chemotherapy in the past to treat a different cancer.
  • Whether there is a history of a blood disorder such as myelodysplastic syndrome.
  • Whether the cancer has spread to the central nervous system.
  • Whether the cancer has been treated before or recurred (come back).

It is important that acute leukemia be treated right away.

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Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with adult acute myeloid leukemia.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.

The treatment of adult AML usually has 2 phases.

The 2 treatment phases of adult AML are:

  • Remission induction therapy: This is the first phase of treatment. Its purpose is to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow. This puts the leukemia into remission.
  • Maintenance therapy: This is the second phase of treatment. It begins after the leukemia is in remission. The purpose of maintenance therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may not be active but could begin to regrow and cause a relapse. This phase is also called remission continuation therapy.

Four types of standard treatment are used:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column (intrathecal chemotherapy), an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Intrathecal chemotherapy may be used to treat adult AML that has spread, or may spread to the brain and spinal cord. Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the subtype of the cancer being treated and whether it has spread to the brain and spinal cord.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Stem cell transplantation

Stem cell transplantation is a method of giving chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells that are abnormal or destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Other drug therapy

Arsenic trioxide and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) are anticancer drugs that kill leukemia cells, stop the leukemia cells from dividing, or help the leukemia cells mature into white blood cells. These drugs are used in the treatment of a subtype of AML called acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Other types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials. These include the following:

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.

One type of biologic therapy is monoclonal antibody therapy. Monoclonal antibody therapy uses antibodies that are made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells or block their growth. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to deliver drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.

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Treatment Options for Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Untreated Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Standard treatment of untreated adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML) during the remission induction phase depends on the subtype of AML and may include the following:

  • Combination chemotherapy.
  • High-dose combination chemotherapy.
  • Stem cell transplantation using donor stem cells.
  • All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) plus chemotherapy.
  • Intrathecal chemotherapy.

Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia in Remission

Standard treatment of adult AML during the remission phase depends on the subtype of AML and may include the following:

  • Combination chemotherapy.
  • High-dose chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation using the patient's stem cells.
  • High-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation using donor stem cells.

Recurrent Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Standard treatment of recurrent adult AML depends on the subtype of AML and may include the following:

  • Combination chemotherapy.
  • Biologic therapy with monoclonal antibodies.
  • Stem cell transplantation.
  • Low-dose radiation therapy as palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
  • Arsenic trioxide therapy.

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Acute Leukemia