Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a type of blood cancer which develops from immature white blood cells called lymphoblasts.

Last modified: February 7, 2022

Quick facts about acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)Quick facts

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a form of acute leukaemia which develops when the bone marrow produces immature blood cells that do not mature and progress rapidly
  • The immature lymphoid cells are called lymphoblasts. These cells normally develop into lymphocytes, such as B-cells and T-cells, which fight infection
  • ALL primarily affects Australians under the age of 15 and is most common in children under four years of age
  • Each year approximately 440 Australians are diagnosed with ALL

Types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)Types of ALL

There are different subtypes of ALL which are defined based on the type of lymphocyte affected; either B-cell ALL or T-cell ALL. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) classification system is used to classify ALL into subtypes. The three different types of ALL are:

This type of ALL is defined when early stage development of leukaemia is found in the bone marrow. Pre-B cell ALL is most common in adults.

If leukaemia is classified as B-cell ALL, this means the disease has been found in developed or more mature lymphoid cells. This is most common in young adults.

T-cell ALL is classified based on the presence of leukaemia in developing T-cells and is a less common diagnosis.

Signs and symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)Signs and symptoms

As signs and symptoms for ALL can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive an ALL diagnosis.

Symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness

  • Night sweats

  • Aches and pain in the bones due to cancerous cells in the bone marrow

  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite

  • Pain in the chest, coughing and/or trouble breathing

  • Swollen, painless lymph nodes under the arms, neck or groin

  • Enlarged stomach due to swollen lymph nodes or spleen

  • Anaemia due to lack of red blood cells

  • Increased bleeding and bruising

Stages of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) Stages

The traditional cancer staging system is not used to stage ALL. Instead, the subtypes of ALL help doctors understand what your cancer looks like based on laboratory testing (including genetic testing) and the classification systems. 

Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

There are many different types of treatment for ALL. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Frequently asked questions about acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) FAQs

Is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) hereditary?

ALL is not usually hereditary although common inherited conditions that have been linked to ALL include Fanconi anaemia, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Bloom syndrome, neurofibromatosis and Down syndrome.  

What causes acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)?

The cause of ALL is not fully known, however there are some factors which contribute to the risk of ALL developing, including:  

  • Age – The risk for ALL is higher in Australians aged under 15 years of age or over 50 years
  • Certain lifestyle-related factors – Such as smoking or chewing tobacco, exposure to chemicals such as benzene or large levels of radiation and previous cancer treatments with chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy 
  • Genetic disorders and family history – Inherited conditions such as Down syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Fanconi anaemia can increase the risk for ALL  
How common is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)?

Leukaemia is less common than other cancer types, affecting 1 in 61 Australians by the age of 85. ALL is the most common form of acute leukaemia in young adults, primarily affecting Australians under the age of 15. Each year approximately 440 Australians are diagnosed with ALL, with more males than females diagnosed. 

How is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) diagnosed?

There are many different tests that are used to diagnose ALL, alongside a physical examination. This may include blood tests to check your full blood count to determine if leukaemia cells are present and a bone marrow biopsy or aspiration to check for leukaemia cells within your bone marrow. Additional scans may include CT, ultrasound or MRI scans to detect if the cancer has spread elsewhere. A lumbar puncture, which involves taking a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from your lower spine, is usually performed following an ALL diagnosis to confirm if leukaemia cells are present in the fluid surrounding your spine.

What is the difference between acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)?

ALL and AML are two forms of acute leukaemia which develop from different types of white blood cells. ALL develops from lymphocytes such as B-cells and T-cells while AML develops from myeloid cells. 

What can I do to decrease my risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)?

There are a number of lifestyle-related factors you can consider to reduce your risk of developing ALL, like: 

  • Quitting smoking – Cigarette smoking carries a significantly higher risk of developing ALL 
  • Getting regular exercise – Cancer Australia recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day 
  • Avoiding exposure to chemicals Such as benzene or large levels of radiation 
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet – Eat a fibre-rich diet from grain and legume sources, as well as enjoy a variety of fruit (2 serves) and vegetables (5 serves) per day, limit your intake of salt and saturated fats, and avoid all processed meat. 
Are there clinical trials available for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) that I can participate in?

Icon offers clinical trials across a wide range of cancer types and treatments. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor who will be able to find a trial that might be right for you and your cancer.  

See current clinical trials delivered by Icon Cancer Centre.  


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council (2020). Understanding acute leukaemia. Retrieved 4 January 2022 from
  2. Leukaemia Foundation (2020). Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Retrieved 4 January 2022 from
  3. Cancer Council (2020). Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Retrieved 4 January 2022 from
  4. American Cancer Society (2018). Signs and Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). Retrieved 4 January 2022 from
  5. Cancer Research UK (2018). Types | Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Retrieved 4 January 2022 from
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