sickleRecent news reports how a bone marrow transplant to treat a ten year old boy with acute lymphocytic leukemia (or ALL) also appears to have cured him of his peanut allergy. But what is ALL and how can a bone marrow transplant help? Get the facts here.

Called Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia or Acute Lymphoid Leukemia, more than 4,000 Americans are diagnosed with ALL every year, the most commonly affected being children under 10 years old. Although ALL is the most common leukemia in children, around a third of cases occur in adults.

We all make blasts (immature blood cells) in our bone marrow, which go on to become white blood cells. In someone with ALL, these blasts are abnormal, so instead of developing and fighting disease they are useless but still multiply very quickly, making less room in the blood system for healthy red and white cells and platelets.

Symptoms

Depending on how many normal blood cells someone with ALL has (that is, how quickly the abnormal lymphocytes are produced and push out the healthy cells), the symptoms of ALL will vary, but include:

  • Anemia; due to the lack of red blood cells in the blood, oxygen is not carried around the body.
  • Fever and infections due to the lack of infection-fighting healthy white blood cells.
  • Bruising, blood blisters or red spots caused by low platelet levels (platelets help blood to clot).
  • Nausea, headache, joint and bone pain, caused by the leukemia cells.

Initially, a simple blood test will probably alert a doctor to the likelihood of leukemia; if the white blood cell count is much higher, or much lower than normal it indicates some sort of bone marrow malfunction. Through taking a bone marrow sample, a specialist can then see the size and number of malformed blasts in the bone marrow, the level of genetic mutation that has occurred within the cells (cytogenetics) and the type of cells affected, enabling them to diagnose the correct sub-type of leukemia and decide on the best course of treatment.

Treatment

Because ALL moves so quickly, it is important for doctors to start treatment as soon as possible, depending on the age and physical health of the patient, the doctors will choose the level of intensity of chemotherapy or radiation treatment and will decide whether a bone marrow transplant is appropriate.

ALL and BMT

An allogeneic bone marrow or cord blood transplant offers the best chance of recovery for many people with ALL. Once remission is achieved through chemotherapy, BMT allows new, healthy bone marrow to develop; taking away the risk that existing marrow will regrow with the same abnormalities it had before chemotherapy.

Whilst best results are achieved when a patient has a transplant after first remission, it is possible to perform a bone marrow transplant on a patient after first, second or third remission, relapse and even whilst the disease is present if the patient doesn’t manage to reach remission through chemotherapy.

All acute diseases are unpredictable and can progress very quickly. Therefore, it is important that you talk to a doctor about bone marrow transplant as soon as you are diagnosed. If you are eligible for a bone marrow transplant, having a transplant at the right stage of your disease will dramatically increase your chances of success.  To find out more if a bone marrow transplant could help you or a loved one, contact us today.