Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells that develop from immature cells called lymphoblasts found in the bone marrow. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is an aggressive cancer in which there is an uncontrolled production of immature lymphoblasts. It affects children and older people over 65 years. It is the most common form of cancer in children and the least common type among adults.
Risk factors are some genetic problems, exposure to high levels of radiation to treat other types of cancer, exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene and pre-existing blood disorders. A study has revealed that parental smoking around the time of conception greatly increases the chances of a child developing acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
The cancer usually does not present with any symptoms at first and may be found by chance during a blood test. Symptoms usually begin slowly. But as the immature white blood cells increase in the blood the symptoms quickly get severe. Susceptibility to infection increases because the white blood cells are less effective at fighting bacteria and viruses. Also, red blood cells or platelets decrease causing anaemia and chances of excessive bleeding. ALL is diagnosed by blood test and bone marrow biopsy. Lymph node biopsy establishes how far the leukaemia has spread. Once diagnosed, it needs quick and aggressive treatment. Patients go into ‘remission’ or periods of no symptoms with treatment. Regular blood transfusions and radiotherapy may also be needed.
According to a research, a concentrated form of a compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables could help lower the number of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia cells. In a trial, scientists have developed an effective method to beat adult ALL with a patient’s own immune system.