This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
ALL (also called acute lymphocytic leukemia) is an aggressive type of leukemia characterized by the presence of too many lymphoblasts or lymphocytes in the bone marrow and peripheral blood. It can spread to the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system (CNS), and other organs. Without treatment, ALL usually progresses quickly.
Signs and symptoms of ALL may include the following:
ALL occurs in both children and adults. It is the most common type of cancer in children, and treatment results in a good chance for a cure. For adults, the prognosis is not as optimistic. This summary discusses ALL in adults. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment for more information about ALL in children.)
Incidence and Mortality
Estimated new cases and deaths from ALL in the United States in 2011:
ALL presumably arises from malignant transformation of B- or T-cell progenitor cells. It is more commonly seen in children, but can occur at any age. The disease is characterized by the accumulation of lymphoblasts in the marrow or in various extramedullary sites, frequently accompanied by suppression of normal hematopoiesis. B- and T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia cells express surface antigens that parallel their respective lineage developments. Precursor B-cell ALL cells typically express CD10, CD19, and CD34 on their surface along, with nuclear terminal deoxynucleotide transferase (TdT), while precursor T-cell ALL cells commonly express CD2, CD3, CD7, CD34, and TdT.
Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.
It has been recognized for many years that some patients presenting with acute leukemia may have a cytogenetic abnormality that is cytogenetically indistinguishable from the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph1). The Ph1 occurs in only 1% to 2% of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but it occurs in about 20% of adults and a small percentage of children with ALL. In the majority of children and in more than one-half of adults with Ph1-positive ALL, the molecular abnormality is different from that in Ph1-positive chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
Many patients who have molecular evidence of the bcr-abl fusion gene, which characterizes the Ph1, have no evidence of the abnormal chromosome by cytogenetics. The bcr-abl fusion gene may be detectable only by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) or reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) because many patients have a different fusion protein from the one found in CML (p190 vs. p210). These tests should be performed, whenever possible, in patients with ALL, especially in those with B-cell lineage disease.
L3 ALL is associated with a variety of translocations that involve translocation of the c-myc proto-oncogene to the immunoglobulin gene locus t(2;8), t(8;12), and t(8;22).
Patients with ALL may present with a variety of hematologic derangements ranging from pancytopenia to hyperleukocytosis. In addition to a history and physical, the initial workup should include:
A bone marrow biopsy and aspirate are routinely performed even in T-cell ALL to determine the extent of marrow involvement. Malignant cells should be sent for conventional cytogenetic studies, as detection of the Ph1 t(9;22), myc gene rearrangements (in Burkitt leukemia), and MLL gene rearrangements add important prognostic information. Flow cytometry should be performed to characterize expression of lineage-defining antigens and allow determination of the specific ALL subtype. In addition, for B-cell disease, the malignant cells should be analyzed using RT-PCR and FISH for evidence of the bcr-abl fusion gene. This last point is of utmost importance, as timely diagnosis of Ph1 ALL will significantly change the therapeutic approach.
Diagnostic confusion with AML, hairy cell leukemia, and malignant lymphoma is not uncommon. Proper diagnosis is crucial because of the difference in prognosis and treatment of ALL and AML. Immunophenotypic analysis is essential because leukemias that do not express myeloperoxidase include M0 AML, M7 AML, and ALL.
The examination of bone marrow aspirates and/or biopsy specimens should be done by an experienced oncologist, hematologist, hematopathologist, or general pathologist who is capable of interpreting conventional and specially stained specimens.
Prognosis and Survival
Factors associated with prognosis in patients with ALL include the following:
Two other chromosomal abnormalities with poor prognosis are t(4;11), which is characterized by rearrangements of the MLL gene and may be rearranged despite normal cytogenetics, and t(9;22). In addition to t(4;11) and t(9;22), compared with patients with a normal karyotype, patients with deletion of chromosome 7 or trisomy 8 have been reported to have a lower probability of survival at 5 years. In a multivariate analysis, karyotype was the most important predictor of disease-free survival.[Level of evidence: 3iiDii]
Late Effects of Treatment for Adult ALL
Long-term follow-up of 30 patients with ALL in remission for at least 10 years has demonstrated ten cases of secondary malignancies. Of 31 long-term female survivors of ALL or AML younger than 40 years, 26 resumed normal menstruation following completion of therapy. Among 36 live offspring of survivors, two congenital problems occurred.
|1.||American Cancer Society.: Cancer Facts and Figures 2011. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2011. Also available online. Last accessed July 27, 2011.|
|2.||Pui CH, Jeha S: New therapeutic strategies for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Nat Rev Drug Discov 6 (2): 149-65, 2007.|
|3.||Peterson LC, Bloomfield CD, Brunning RD: Blast crisis as an initial or terminal manifestation of chronic myeloid leukemia: a study of 28 patients. Am J Med 60(2): 209-220, 1976.|
|4.||Secker-Walker LM, Cooke HM, Browett PJ, et al.: Variable Philadelphia breakpoints and potential lineage restriction of bcr rearrangement in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 72 (2): 784-91, 1988.|
|5.||Gaynor J, Chapman D, Little C, et al.: A cause-specific hazard rate analysis of prognostic factors among 199 adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: the Memorial Hospital experience since 1969. J Clin Oncol 6 (6): 1014-30, 1988.|
|6.||Hoelzer D, Thiel E, Löffler H, et al.: Prognostic factors in a multicenter study for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in adults. Blood 71 (1): 123-31, 1988.|
|7.||Kantarjian HM, Walters RS, Smith TL, et al.: Identification of risk groups for development of central nervous system leukemia in adults with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 72 (5): 1784-9, 1988.|
|8.||Lee EJ, Petroni GR, Schiffer CA, et al.: Brief-duration high-intensity chemotherapy for patients with small noncleaved-cell lymphoma or FAB L3 acute lymphocytic leukemia: results of cancer and leukemia group B study 9251. J Clin Oncol 19 (20): 4014-22, 2001.|
|9.||Hoelzer D, Ludwig WD, Thiel E, et al.: Improved outcome in adult B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 87 (2): 495-508, 1996.|
|10.||Fenaux P, Lai JL, Miaux O, et al.: Burkitt cell acute leukaemia (L3 ALL) in adults: a report of 18 cases. Br J Haematol 71 (3): 371-6, 1989.|
|11.||Reiter A, Schrappe M, Ludwig WD, et al.: Favorable outcome of B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood: a report of three consecutive studies of the BFM group. Blood 80 (10): 2471-8, 1992.|
|12.||Chromosomal abnormalities and their clinical significance in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Third International Workshop on Chromosomes in Leukemia. Cancer Res 43 (2): 868-73, 1983.|
|13.||Wetzler M, Dodge RK, Mrózek K, et al.: Prospective karyotype analysis in adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia: the cancer and leukemia Group B experience. Blood 93 (11): 3983-93, 1999.|
|14.||Micallef IN, Rohatiner AZ, Carter M, et al.: Long-term outcome of patients surviving for more than ten years following treatment for acute leukaemia. Br J Haematol 113 (2): 443-5, 2001.|
The following leukemic cell characteristics are important:
In adults, French-American-British (FAB) L1 morphology (more mature-appearing lymphoblasts) is present in fewer than 50% of patients, and L2 morphology (more immature and pleomorphic) predominates. L3 (Burkitt) ALL is much less common than the other two FAB subtypes. It is characterized by blasts with cytoplasmic vacuolizations and surface expression of immunoglobulin, and the bone marrow often has an appearance described as a "starry sky" owing to the presence of numerous apoptotic cells. L3 ALL is associated with a variety of translocations that involve translocation of the c-myc proto-oncogene to the immunoglobulin gene locus t(2;8), t(8;12), and t(8;22).
Some patients presenting with acute leukemia may have a cytogenetic abnormality that is morphologically indistinguishable from the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph1). The Ph1 occurs in only 1% to 2% of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but it occurs in about 20% of adults and a small percentage of children with ALL. In the majority of children and in more than one-half of adults with Ph1-positive ALL, the molecular abnormality is different from that in Ph1-positive chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
Many patients who have molecular evidence of the bcr-abl fusion gene, which characterizes the Ph1, have no evidence of the abnormal chromosome by cytogenetics. The bcr-abl fusion gene may be detectable only by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis or reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction for the bcr-abl fusion gene because many patients have a different fusion protein from the one found in CML (p190 vs. p210).
Table 1. Frequency of ALL Cell Subtypes
|Cell Subtype||Approximate Frequency|
|Early B-cell lineage||80%|
|B cells with surface immunoglobulins||<5%|
About 95% of all types of ALL (except Burkitt, which usually has an L3 morphology by the FAB classification) have elevated terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) expression. This elevation is extremely useful in diagnosis; if concentrations of the enzyme are not elevated, the diagnosis of ALL is suspect. However, 20% of cases of AML may express TdT; therefore, its usefulness as a lineage marker is limited. Because Burkitt leukemias are managed according to different treatment algorithms, it is important to specifically identify these cases prospectively by their L3 morphology, absence of TdT, and expression of surface immunoglobulin. Patients with Burkitt leukemias will typically have one of the following three chromosomal translocations:
|1.||Brearley RL, Johnson SA, Lister TA: Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in adults: clinicopathological correlations with the French-American-British (FAB) co-operative group classification. Eur J Cancer 15 (6): 909-14, 1979.|
|2.||Peterson LC, Bloomfield CD, Brunning RD: Blast crisis as an initial or terminal manifestation of chronic myeloid leukemia: a study of 28 patients. Am J Med 60(2): 209-220, 1976.|
|3.||Secker-Walker LM, Cooke HM, Browett PJ, et al.: Variable Philadelphia breakpoints and potential lineage restriction of bcr rearrangement in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 72 (2): 784-91, 1988.|
|4.||Hoelzer D, Thiel E, Löffler H, et al.: Prognostic factors in a multicenter study for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in adults. Blood 71 (1): 123-31, 1988.|
|5.||Sobol RE, Royston I, LeBien TW, et al.: Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia phenotypes defined by monoclonal antibodies. Blood 65 (3): 730-5, 1985.|
|6.||Foon KA, Billing RJ, Terasaki PI, et al.: Immunologic classification of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Implications for normal lymphoid differentiation. Blood 56 (6): 1120-6, 1980.|
There is no clear-cut staging system for this disease. This disease is classified as untreated, in remission, or recurrent.
Untreated Adult ALL
For a newly diagnosed patient with no prior treatment, untreated adult ALL is defined by the following:
Adult ALL in Remission
A patient who has received remission-induction treatment of ALL is in remission if all of the following criteria are met:
Successful treatment of ALL consists of the control of bone marrow and systemic disease and the treatment (or prevention) of sanctuary-site disease, particularly the central nervous system (CNS).[1,2] The cornerstone of this strategy includes systemically administered combination chemotherapy with CNS preventive therapy. CNS prophylaxis is achieved with chemotherapy (intrathecal and/or high-dose systemic therapy) and, in some cases, cranial radiation therapy.
Treatment is divided into the following three phases:
The average length of treatment for ALL varies between 1.5 and 3 years in the effort to eradicate the leukemic cell population. Younger adults with ALL may be eligible for selected clinical trials for childhood ALL. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment for more information.)
Entry into a clinical trial is highly desirable to assure adequate patient treatment and maximal information retrieval from the treatment of this highly responsive, but usually fatal, disease.
Table 2. Standard Treatment Options for Adult ALL
|Disease Status||Standard Treatment Options|
|Untreated ALL||Remission induction therapy|
|CNS prophylaxis therapy|
|ALL in remission||Postremission therapy|
|CNS prophylaxis therapy|
|Recurrent ALL||Reinduction chemotherapy|
|Palliative radiation therapy|
|1.||Clarkson BD, Gee T, Arlin ZA, et al.: Current status of treatment of acute leukemia in adults: an overview of the Memorial experience and review of literature. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol 4 (3): 221-48, 1986.|
|2.||Hoelzer D, Gale RP: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia in adults: recent progress, future directions. Semin Hematol 24 (1): 27-39, 1987.|
Standard Treatment Options for Untreated Adult ALL
Standard treatment options for untreated adult ALL include the following:
|1.||Remission induction therapy, including the following:|
|2.||Central nervous system (CNS) prophylaxis therapy, including the following:|
Remission induction therapy
Sixty percent to 80% of adults with ALL usually achieve a complete remission (CR) status following appropriate induction therapy. Appropriate initial treatment, usually consisting of a regimen that includes the combination of vincristine, prednisone, and an anthracycline, with or without asparaginase, results in a CR rate of up to 80%. In patients with Ph1-positive ALL, the remission rate is generally greater than 90% when standard induction regimens are combined with Bcr-abl tyrosine kinase inhibitors. In the largest study published to date of Ph1-positive ALL patients, overall survival for 1,913 adult ALL patients was 39% at 5 years.
Patients who experience a relapse after remission usually die within 1 year, even if a second CR is achieved. If there are appropriate available donors and if the patient is younger than 55 years, bone marrow transplantation may be a consideration in the management of this disease. Transplant centers performing five or fewer transplants annually usually have poorer results than larger centers. If allogeneic transplant is considered, transfusions with blood products from a potential donor should be avoided, if possible. [4,5,6,7,8,9,10]
Most current induction regimens for patients with adult ALL include combination chemotherapy with prednisone, vincristine, and an anthracycline. Some regimens, including those used in a Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) study (CLB-8811), also add other drugs, such as asparaginase or cyclophosphamide. Current multiagent induction regimens result in complete response rates that range from 60% to 90%.[1,4,5,11,12]
Imatinib mesylate is often incorporated into the therapeutic plan for patients with Ph1-positive ALL. Imatinib mesylate, an orally available inhibitor of the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase, has been shown to have clinical activity as a single agent in Ph1-positive ALL.[13,14][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] More commonly, particularly in younger patients, imatinib is incorporated into combination chemotherapy regimens. There are several published single-arm studies in which CR rate and survival are compared with historical controls.
Evidence (Imatinib mesylate):
Several studies have suggested that the addition of imatinib to conventional combination chemotherapy induction regimens results in complete response rates, event-free survival rates, and overall survival rates that are higher than those in historical controls.[15,16,17] At the present time, no conclusions can be drawn regarding the optimal imatinib dose or schedule.
|1.||In one study, ten patients with Ph1-positive ALL and ten patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia in lymphoid blast crisis were treated with doses of imatinib ranging from 300 mg to 1,000 mg per day. Of these 20 patients, four had complete hematologic remission and ten had marrow responses. Responses were short lived, with the majority of these patients relapsing at a median of 58 days after the start of therapy.|
|2.||In another study, 48 patients with Ph1-positive ALL were treated with 400 mg to 800 mg of imatinib per day. The overall response rate was 60%, with 9 out of 48 patients (19%) achieving a CR. The responses again were short, with a median duration of 2.2 months.|
In each of these studies, common toxicities were nausea and liver enzyme abnormalities, which necessitated interruption and/or dose reduction of imatinib.[13,14] (For more information on nausea, refer to the PDQ summary on Nausea and Vomiting.) Subsequent allogeneic transplant does not appear to be adversely affected by the addition of imatinib to the treatment regimen.
While there are no randomized clinical trials comparing chemotherapy with or without imatinib for this disease, imatinib is generally incorporated into the treatment of patients with Ph1-positive ALL because of the responses observed in monotherapy trials. If a suitable donor is available, allogeneic bone marrow transplantation should be considered because remissions are generally short with conventional ALL chemotherapy clinical trials.
Since myelosuppression is an anticipated consequence of both leukemia and its treatment with chemotherapy, patients must be closely monitored during remission induction treatment. Facilities must be available for hematological support and for the treatment of infectious complications.
Evidence (Supportive care):
|1.||Randomized clinical trials have shown similar outcomes for patients who received prophylactic platelet transfusions at a level of 10,000/mm3 rather than at a level of 20,000/mm3.|
|2.||The incidence of platelet alloimmunization was similar among groups randomly assigned to receive one of the following from random donors:|
Empiric broad-spectrum antimicrobial therapy is an absolute necessity for febrile patients who are profoundly neutropenic.[22,23] Careful instruction in personal hygiene and dental care and in recognizing early signs of infection are appropriate for all patients. Elaborate isolation facilities, including filtered air, sterile food, and gut flora sterilization, are not routinely indicated but may benefit transplant patients.[24,25]
Rapid marrow ablation with consequent earlier marrow regeneration decreases morbidity and mortality. White blood cell transfusions can be beneficial in selected patients with aplastic marrow and serious infections that are not responding to antibiotics. Prophylactic oral antibiotics may be appropriate in patients with expected prolonged, profound granulocytopenia (<100/mm3 for 2 weeks), though further studies are necessary. Serial surveillance cultures may be helpful in detecting the presence or acquisition of resistant organisms in these patients.
CNS prophylaxis therapy
The early institution of CNS prophylaxis is critical to achieve control of sanctuary disease.
Special Considerations for B-Cell and T-Cell Adult ALL
Two additional subtypes of adult ALL require special consideration. B-cell ALL, which expresses surface immunoglobulin and cytogenetic abnormalities such as t(8;14), t(2;8), and t(8;22), is not usually cured with typical ALL regimens. Aggressive brief-duration high-intensity regimens, including those used in CLB-9251, that are similar to those used in aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma have shown high response rates and cure rates (75% CR; 40% failure-free survival).[30,31,32] Similarly, T-cell ALL, including lymphoblastic lymphoma, has shown high cure rates when treated with cyclophosphamide-containing regimens.
Whenever possible, patients with B-cell or T-cell ALL should be entered in clinical trials designed to improve the outcomes in these subsets. (Refer to the B-cell (Burkitt) lymphoma and T-cell (lymphoblastic) lymphoma sections in the PDQ summary on Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
Current Clinical Trials
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with untreated adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.
|1.||Goldstone AH, Richards SM, Lazarus HM, et al.: In adults with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the greatest benefit is achieved from a matched sibling allogeneic transplantation in first complete remission, and an autologous transplantation is less effective than conventional consolidation/maintenance chemotherapy in all patients: final results of the International ALL Trial (MRC UKALL XII/ECOG E2993). Blood 111 (4): 1827-33, 2008.|
|2.||Bortin MM, Horowitz MM, Gale RP, et al.: Changing trends in allogeneic bone marrow transplantation for leukemia in the 1980s. JAMA 268 (5): 607-12, 1992.|
|3.||Horowitz MM, Przepiorka D, Champlin RE, et al.: Should HLA-identical sibling bone marrow transplants for leukemia be restricted to large centers? Blood 79 (10): 2771-4, 1992.|
|4.||Larson RA, Dodge RK, Burns CP, et al.: A five-drug remission induction regimen with intensive consolidation for adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: cancer and leukemia group B study 8811. Blood 85 (8): 2025-37, 1995.|
|5.||Linker CA, Levitt LJ, O'Donnell M, et al.: Treatment of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia with intensive cyclical chemotherapy: a follow-up report. Blood 78 (11): 2814-22, 1991.|
|6.||Barrett AJ, Horowitz MM, Gale RP, et al.: Marrow transplantation for acute lymphoblastic leukemia: factors affecting relapse and survival. Blood 74 (2): 862-71, 1989.|
|7.||Dinsmore R, Kirkpatrick D, Flomenberg N, et al.: Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 62 (2): 381-8, 1983.|
|8.||Jacobs AD, Gale RP: Recent advances in the biology and treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in adults. N Engl J Med 311 (19): 1219-31, 1984.|
|9.||Doney K, Buckner CD, Kopecky KJ, et al.: Marrow transplantation for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first marrow remission. Bone Marrow Transplant 2 (4): 355-63, 1987.|
|10.||Vernant JP, Marit G, Maraninchi D, et al.: Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation in adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first complete remission. J Clin Oncol 6 (2): 227-31, 1988.|
|11.||Hoelzer D, Thiel E, Löffler H, et al.: Prognostic factors in a multicenter study for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in adults. Blood 71 (1): 123-31, 1988.|
|12.||Kantarjian H, Thomas D, O'Brien S, et al.: Long-term follow-up results of hyperfractionated cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and dexamethasone (Hyper-CVAD), a dose-intensive regimen, in adult acute lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer 101 (12): 2788-801, 2004.|
|13.||Druker BJ, Sawyers CL, Kantarjian H, et al.: Activity of a specific inhibitor of the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase in the blast crisis of chronic myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia with the Philadelphia chromosome. N Engl J Med 344 (14): 1038-42, 2001.|
|14.||Ottmann OG, Druker BJ, Sawyers CL, et al.: A phase 2 study of imatinib in patients with relapsed or refractory Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoid leukemias. Blood 100 (6): 1965-71, 2002.|
|15.||Thomas DA, Faderl S, Cortes J, et al.: Treatment of Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphocytic leukemia with hyper-CVAD and imatinib mesylate. Blood 103 (12): 4396-407, 2004.|
|16.||Yanada M, Takeuchi J, Sugiura I, et al.: High complete remission rate and promising outcome by combination of imatinib and chemotherapy for newly diagnosed BCR-ABL-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a phase II study by the Japan Adult Leukemia Study Group. J Clin Oncol 24 (3): 460-6, 2006.|
|17.||Wassmann B, Pfeifer H, Goekbuget N, et al.: Alternating versus concurrent schedules of imatinib and chemotherapy as front-line therapy for Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL). Blood 108 (5): 1469-77, 2006.|
|18.||Slichter SJ: Controversies in platelet transfusion therapy. Annu Rev Med 31: 509-40, 1980.|
|19.||Murphy MF, Metcalfe P, Thomas H, et al.: Use of leucocyte-poor blood components and HLA-matched-platelet donors to prevent HLA alloimmunization. Br J Haematol 62 (3): 529-34, 1986.|
|20.||Rebulla P, Finazzi G, Marangoni F, et al.: The threshold for prophylactic platelet transfusions in adults with acute myeloid leukemia. Gruppo Italiano Malattie Ematologiche Maligne dell'Adulto. N Engl J Med 337 (26): 1870-5, 1997.|
|21.||Leukocyte reduction and ultraviolet B irradiation of platelets to prevent alloimmunization and refractoriness to platelet transfusions. The Trial to Reduce Alloimmunization to Platelets Study Group. N Engl J Med 337 (26): 1861-9, 1997.|
|22.||Hughes WT, Armstrong D, Bodey GP, et al.: From the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Guidelines for the use of antimicrobial agents in neutropenic patients with unexplained fever. J Infect Dis 161 (3): 381-96, 1990.|
|23.||Rubin M, Hathorn JW, Pizzo PA: Controversies in the management of febrile neutropenic cancer patients. Cancer Invest 6 (2): 167-84, 1988.|
|24.||Armstrong D: Symposium on infectious complications of neoplastic disease (Part II). Protected environments are discomforting and expensive and do not offer meaningful protection. Am J Med 76 (4): 685-9, 1984.|
|25.||Sherertz RJ, Belani A, Kramer BS, et al.: Impact of air filtration on nosocomial Aspergillus infections. Unique risk of bone marrow transplant recipients. Am J Med 83 (4): 709-18, 1987.|
|26.||Schiffer CA: Granulocyte transfusions: an overlooked therapeutic modality. Transfus Med Rev 4 (1): 2-7, 1990.|
|27.||Wade JC, Schimpff SC, Hargadon MT, et al.: A comparison of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole plus nystatin with gentamicin plus nystatin in the prevention of infections in acute leukemia. N Engl J Med 304 (18): 1057-62, 1981.|
|28.||Scherrer R, Geissler K, Kyrle PA, et al.: Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) as an adjunct to induction chemotherapy of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Ann Hematol 66 (6): 283-9, 1993.|
|29.||Larson RA, Dodge RK, Linker CA, et al.: A randomized controlled trial of filgrastim during remission induction and consolidation chemotherapy for adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: CALGB study 9111. Blood 92 (5): 1556-64, 1998.|
|30.||Hoelzer D, Ludwig WD, Thiel E, et al.: Improved outcome in adult B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 87 (2): 495-508, 1996.|
|31.||Lee EJ, Petroni GR, Schiffer CA, et al.: Brief-duration high-intensity chemotherapy for patients with small noncleaved-cell lymphoma or FAB L3 acute lymphocytic leukemia: results of cancer and leukemia group B study 9251. J Clin Oncol 19 (20): 4014-22, 2001.|
|32.||Thomas DA, Cortes J, O'Brien S, et al.: Hyper-CVAD program in Burkitt's-type adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 17 (8): 2461-70, 1999.|
Standard Treatment Options for Adult ALL in Remission
Standard treatment options for adult ALL in remission include the following:
|1.||Postremission therapy, including the following: |
|2.||Central nervous system (CNS) prophylaxis therapy, including the following:|
Current approaches to postremission therapy for adult ALL include short-term, relatively intensive chemotherapy followed by any of the following:
Because the optimal postremission therapy for patients with ALL is still unclear, participation in clinical trials should be considered. (Refer to the B-cell (Burkitt) lymphoma section in the PDQ summary on Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
|1.||Several trials, including studies from the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CLB-8811) and the European Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG-2993), of aggressive postremission chemotherapy for adult ALL have confirmed a long-term disease-free survival (DFS) rate of approximately 40%.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7]|
|2.||In contrast, poor cure rates were demonstrated in patients with Philadelphia chromosome (Ph1)-positive ALL, B-cell lineage ALL with an L3 phenotype (surface immunoglobulin positive), and B-cell lineage ALL characterized by t(4;11).|
Administration of the newer dose-intensive schedules can be difficult and should be performed by physicians experienced in these regimens at centers equipped to deal with potential complications. Studies in which continuation or maintenance chemotherapy was eliminated had outcomes inferior to those with extended treatment durations.[8,9] Imatinib has been incorporated into maintenance regimens in patients with Ph1-positive ALL.[10,11,12]
Evidence (Allogeneic and autologous BMT):
AlloBMT results in the lowest incidence of leukemic relapse, even when compared with a BMT from an identical twin (syngeneic BMT). This finding has led to the concept of an immunologic graft-versus-leukemia effect similar to graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The improvement in DFS in patients undergoing alloBMT as primary postremission therapy is offset, in part, by the increased morbidity and mortality from GVHD, veno-occlusive disease of the liver, and interstitial pneumonitis.
|1.||The results of a series of retrospective and prospective studies published between 1987 and 1994 suggest that alloBMT or autoBMT as postremission therapy offer no survival advantage over intensive chemotherapy, except perhaps for patients with high-risk or Ph1-positive ALL.[14,15,16,17] This was confirmed in the ECOG-2993 study.|
|2.||Following on the results of earlier studies, the International ALL Trial (ECOG-2993) was launched as an attempt to examine the role of transplant as postremission therapy for ALL more definitively; patients were accrued from 1993 to 2006. Patients with Ph1-negative ALL between the ages of 15 years and 59 years received identical multiagent induction therapy resembling previously published regimens.[1,2,3] Patients in remission were then eligible for HLA typing; patients with a fully matched sibling donor underwent alloBMT as consolidation therapy. Those patients lacking a donor were randomly assigned to receive either an autoBMT or maintenance chemotherapy. The primary outcome measured was overall survival (OS); event-free survival, relapse rate, and nonrelapse mortality were secondary outcomes. A total of 1,929 patients were registered and stratified according to age, white blood cell (WBC) count, and time to remission. High-risk patients were defined as those having a high WBC count at presentation or those older than 35 years.|
The use of matched unrelated donors for alloBMT is currently under evaluation but, because of its current high treatment-related morbidity and mortality, it is reserved for patients in second remission or beyond. The dose of total-body radiation therapy administered is associated with the incidence of acute and chronic GVHD and may be an independent predictor of leukemia-free survival.[Level of evidence: 3iiB]
Evidence (B-cell ALL):
Aggressive cyclophosphamide-based regimens similar to those used in aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma have shown improved outcome of prolonged DFS for patients with B-cell ALL (L3 morphology, surface immunoglobulin positive).
|1.||Retrospectively reviewing three sequential cooperative group trials from Germany, one group of investigators found the following:|
CNS prophylaxis therapy
The early institution of CNS prophylaxis is critical to achieve control of sanctuary disease. Some authors have suggested that there is a subgroup of patients at low risk for CNS relapse for whom CNS prophylaxis may not be necessary. However, this concept has not been tested prospectively.
Aggressive CNS prophylaxis remains a prominent component of treatment. This report, which requires confirmation in other cooperative group settings, is encouraging for patients with L3 ALL. Patients with surface immunoglobulin and L1 or L2 morphology did not benefit from this regimen. Similarly, patients with L3 morphology and immunophenotype, but unusual cytogenetic features, were not cured with this approach. A WBC count of less than 50,000 per microliter predicted improved leukemia-free survival in a univariate analysis.
Current Clinical Trials
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia in remission. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.
|1.||Gaynor J, Chapman D, Little C, et al.: A cause-specific hazard rate analysis of prognostic factors among 199 adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: the Memorial Hospital experience since 1969. J Clin Oncol 6 (6): 1014-30, 1988.|
|3.||Linker CA, Levitt LJ, O'Donnell M, et al.: Treatment of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia with intensive cyclical chemotherapy: a follow-up report. Blood 78 (11): 2814-22, 1991.|
|4.||Zhang MJ, Hoelzer D, Horowitz MM, et al.: Long-term follow-up of adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first remission treated with chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation. The Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Working Committee. Ann Intern Med 123 (6): 428-31, 1995.|
|5.||Larson RA, Dodge RK, Burns CP, et al.: A five-drug remission induction regimen with intensive consolidation for adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: cancer and leukemia group B study 8811. Blood 85 (8): 2025-37, 1995.|
|6.||Kantarjian H, Thomas D, O'Brien S, et al.: Long-term follow-up results of hyperfractionated cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and dexamethasone (Hyper-CVAD), a dose-intensive regimen, in adult acute lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer 101 (12): 2788-801, 2004.|
|7.||Goldstone AH, Richards SM, Lazarus HM, et al.: In adults with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the greatest benefit is achieved from a matched sibling allogeneic transplantation in first complete remission, and an autologous transplantation is less effective than conventional consolidation/maintenance chemotherapy in all patients: final results of the International ALL Trial (MRC UKALL XII/ECOG E2993). Blood 111 (4): 1827-33, 2008.|
|8.||Cuttner J, Mick R, Budman DR, et al.: Phase III trial of brief intensive treatment of adult acute lymphocytic leukemia comparing daunorubicin and mitoxantrone: a CALGB Study. Leukemia 5 (5): 425-31, 1991.|
|9.||Dekker AW, van't Veer MB, Sizoo W, et al.: Intensive postremission chemotherapy without maintenance therapy in adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Dutch Hemato-Oncology Research Group. J Clin Oncol 15 (2): 476-82, 1997.|
|10.||Thomas DA, Faderl S, Cortes J, et al.: Treatment of Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphocytic leukemia with hyper-CVAD and imatinib mesylate. Blood 103 (12): 4396-407, 2004.|
|11.||Yanada M, Takeuchi J, Sugiura I, et al.: High complete remission rate and promising outcome by combination of imatinib and chemotherapy for newly diagnosed BCR-ABL-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a phase II study by the Japan Adult Leukemia Study Group. J Clin Oncol 24 (3): 460-6, 2006.|
|12.||Wassmann B, Pfeifer H, Goekbuget N, et al.: Alternating versus concurrent schedules of imatinib and chemotherapy as front-line therapy for Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL). Blood 108 (5): 1469-77, 2006.|
|13.||Finiewicz KJ, Larson RA: Dose-intensive therapy for adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Semin Oncol 26 (1): 6-20, 1999.|
|14.||Horowitz MM, Messerer D, Hoelzer D, et al.: Chemotherapy compared with bone marrow transplantation for adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first remission. Ann Intern Med 115 (1): 13-8, 1991.|
|15.||Sebban C, Lepage E, Vernant JP, et al.: Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation in adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first complete remission: a comparative study. French Group of Therapy of Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. J Clin Oncol 12 (12): 2580-7, 1994.|
|16.||Forman SJ, O'Donnell MR, Nademanee AP, et al.: Bone marrow transplantation for patients with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 70 (2): 587-8, 1987.|
|17.||Fière D, Lepage E, Sebban C, et al.: Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a multicentric randomized trial testing bone marrow transplantation as postremission therapy. The French Group on Therapy for Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. J Clin Oncol 11 (10): 1990-2001, 1993.|
|18.||Corvò R, Paoli G, Barra S, et al.: Total body irradiation correlates with chronic graft versus host disease and affects prognosis of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia receiving an HLA identical allogeneic bone marrow transplant. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 43 (3): 497-503, 1999.|
|19.||Hoelzer D, Ludwig WD, Thiel E, et al.: Improved outcome in adult B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 87 (2): 495-508, 1996.|
|20.||Kantarjian HM, Walters RS, Smith TL, et al.: Identification of risk groups for development of central nervous system leukemia in adults with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 72 (5): 1784-9, 1988.|
Standard Treatment Options for Recurrent Adult ALL
Standard treatment options for recurrent adult ALL include the following:
|1.||Reinduction chemotherapy followed by allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (alloBMT).|
|2.||Palliative radiation therapy (for patients with symptomatic recurrence).|
|3.||Dasatinib (for patients with Philadelphia chromosome [Ph1]-positive ALL).|
Patients with ALL who experience a relapse following chemotherapy and maintenance therapy are unlikely to be cured by further chemotherapy alone. These patients should be considered for reinduction chemotherapy followed by alloBMT.
Palliative radiation therapy
Low-dose palliative radiation therapy may be considered in patients with symptomatic recurrence either within or outside the central nervous system.
Patients with Ph1-positive ALL will often be taking imatinib at the time of relapse and thus will have imatinib-resistant disease. Dasatinib, a novel tyrosine kinase inhibitor with efficacy against several different imatinib-resistant BCR-ABL mutations, has been approved for use in Ph1-positive ALL patients who are resistant to or intolerant of imatinib. The approval was based on a series of trials involving patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia, one of which included small numbers of patients with lymphoid blast crisis or Ph1-positive ALL.
|1.||In one study, ten patients were treated with dose-escalated dasatinib. Seven of these patients had a complete hematologic response (<5% marrow blasts with normal peripheral blood cell counts), three of whom had a complete cytogenetic response.|
Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Recurrent Adult ALL
|3.||Novel chemotherapeutic or biological agents.|
Current Clinical Trials
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.
|1.||Gray JR, Wallner KE: Reversal of cranial nerve dysfunction with radiation therapy in adults with lymphoma and leukemia. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 19 (2): 439-44, 1990.|
|2.||Talpaz M, Shah NP, Kantarjian H, et al.: Dasatinib in imatinib-resistant Philadelphia chromosome-positive leukemias. N Engl J Med 354 (24): 2531-41, 2006.|
|3.||Herzig RH, Bortin MM, Barrett AJ, et al.: Bone-marrow transplantation in high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in first and second remission. Lancet 1 (8536): 786-9, 1987.|
|4.||Thomas ED, Sanders JE, Flournoy N, et al.: Marrow transplantation for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a long-term follow-up. Blood 62 (5): 1139-41, 1983.|
|5.||Barrett AJ, Horowitz MM, Gale RP, et al.: Marrow transplantation for acute lymphoblastic leukemia: factors affecting relapse and survival. Blood 74 (2): 862-71, 1989.|
|6.||Dinsmore R, Kirkpatrick D, Flomenberg N, et al.: Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 62 (2): 381-8, 1983.|
|7.||Sallan SE, Niemeyer CM, Billett AL, et al.: Autologous bone marrow transplantation for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 7 (11): 1594-601, 1989.|
|8.||Paciucci PA, Keaveney C, Cuttner J, et al.: Mitoxantrone, vincristine, and prednisone in adults with relapsed or primarily refractory acute lymphocytic leukemia and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase positive blastic phase chronic myelocytic leukemia. Cancer Res 47 (19): 5234-7, 1987.|
|9.||Biggs JC, Horowitz MM, Gale RP, et al.: Bone marrow transplants may cure patients with acute leukemia never achieving remission with chemotherapy. Blood 80 (4): 1090-3, 1992.|
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
The NCI's LiveHelp® online chat service provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.
Write to us
For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:
|NCI Public Inquiries Office|
|6116 Executive Boulevard, MSC8322|
|Bethesda, MD 20892-8322|
Search the NCI Web site
The NCI Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. For a quick search, use the search box in the upper right corner of each Web page. The results for a wide range of search terms will include a list of "Best Bets," editorially chosen Web pages that are most closely related to the search term entered.
There are also many other places to get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Hospitals in your area may have information about local and regional agencies that have information on finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems related to cancer treatment.
The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
This summary has been reformatted. The content has been reorganized, and some content has been added.
|Full description of the NCI PDQ database.|
Additional PDQ Summaries
|Treatment options for adult cancers.|
|Treatment options for childhood cancers.|
|Side effects of cancer treatment, management of cancer-related complications and pain, and psychosocial concerns.|
|Tests or procedures that detect specific types of cancer.|
|Risk factors and methods to increase chances of preventing specific types of cancer.|
|Genetics of specific cancers and inherited cancer syndromes, and ethical, legal, and social concerns.|
|Information about complementary and alternative forms of treatment for patients with cancer.|
This information is intended mainly for use by doctors and other health care professionals. If you have questions about this topic, you can ask your doctor, or call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Reviewers and Updates
This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board. Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:
Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.
The lead reviewers for Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment are:
Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the Web site's Contact Form. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.
Levels of Evidence
Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.
Permission to Use This Summary
PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary]."
The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:
National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/adultALL/HealthProfessional. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use within the PDQ summaries only. Permission to use images outside the context of PDQ information must be obtained from the owner(s) and cannot be granted by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the illustrations in this summary, along with many other cancer-related images, is available in Visuals Online, a collection of over 2,000 scientific images.
Based on the strength of the available evidence, treatment options may be described as either "standard" or "under clinical evaluation." These classifications should not be used as a basis for insurance reimbursement determinations. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Coping with Cancer: Financial, Insurance, and Legal Information page.
More information about contacting us or receiving help with the Cancer.gov Web site can be found on our Contact Us for Help page. Questions can also be submitted to Cancer.gov through the Web site's Contact Form.
Last Revised: 2011-07-14