Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma

Acute lymphoblastic lymphoma (ALL) is a very rare cancer that affects the blood cells and the immune system of the patient. Since it mainly occurs in people under the age of 35 and chiefly affects children–it is the most common cancer to affect children between the ages of 1 and 7–it is a disease that gets a lot of attention.

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Unfortunately, it is also a very confusing disease because it gets tangled up with terms similar to it, such as lymphoblastic lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Understanding the nuances that separate these terms related to acute lymphoblastic lymphoma and diseases can be illuminating in trying to understand the very confusing world of lymphomas and leukemias.

Difference between lymphoma and leukemia

Before we go on, it's important to distinguish between a lymphoma and a leukemia. The difference is in presentation. If a blood cancer presents with tumors, it is classified as a lymphoma. If it appears only in circulating cells, it is a leukemia. If it does both, it is a leukemia/lymphoma.

It's also important to note that current treatments for ALL are highly effective, and the majority of children treated for ALL will be cured of the disease.

Follow this link to read more about the difference between lymphoma and leukemia.

Acute lymphoblastic lymphoma: What is it?

This disease that goes by many names but it is fundamentally a single disease—its many names often refer to different stages of the same disease. Along with the term "acute lymphoblastic lymphoma" the disease is also referred to as:

  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma
  • Acute Lymphoid Leukemia
  • Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • Lymphoblastic Lymphoma
  • Lymphocytic Leukemia

And that's just for starters. What's important is not the incestuous list of names but the nature of the disease: acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, as it is perhaps best known, is a cancer of what are known as the lymphoid cell precursors created in the bone marrow and other organs. The result is this:

  • Lymphoblasts (or leukemic blasts) proliferate in the body, and since these cells are immature and will not mature, they will not begin to function as normal blood cells.
  • Production of normal cells in the bone marrow is impeded, leading to a dearth of red blood cells and platelets (known as anemia and thrombocytopenia respectively), along with a dearth of white blood cells as well, chiefly neutrophils (a condition known as neutropenia).

When it affects the T-cells, it is referred to as Precursor T-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma. Swollen lymph nodes and involvement of the thymus gland are common, and since these often present as tumors, it is considered a lymphoma. Since involvement of the bone marrow is also common, is is also regarded as leukemic (thus the term leukemia-lymphoma).

When it affects the B-cells, it is referred to as Precursor B-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma. The disease presents as immature lymphoblasts appearing in the lymph nodes, skin and bones, but frequently presents as merely leukemic.

Acute lymphoblastic lymphoma survival rates

A note to remember: in cancer, the word 'acute' almost never means anything good, and such is the case with ALL. The disease has an aggressive clinical course and requires immediate treatment. Its contrary would be 'chronic', a disease state that is generally manageable, unless or until it develops into an acute disease.

Despite the aggressive nature of acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, overall survival statistics offered by the National Cancer Institute among all ages is over 66%, and for children under the age of 5, the overall survival rate is almost 91%. However, these cure results are only possible if treatment begins immediately following diagnosis.

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