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Causes & symptoms

What causes acute lymphoblastic leukemia?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia occurs due to changes (mutations) in the genetic material (DNA) of a cell. The causes of these mutations are unknown. However, there are factors that might increase the risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, including:

  • Exposure to radiation
  • Certain genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome
  • Certain chemical exposures
  • A weakened immune system, such as that caused by infections with certain viruses
  • Past chemotherapy exposure

What symptoms might I experience with acute lymphoblastic leukemia?

The symptoms (your own experience) and signs (things seen by a doctor) of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can be divided into 4 categories. As acute lymphoblastic leukemia affects the production of the three types of blood cells, each group produces different symptoms.

1. Low red blood cells (anemia) may cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin

2. Low white blood cells (leukopenia) may cause:

  • More frequent infections
  • Fever

3. Symptoms of low platelets (thrombocytopenia) can be:

  • Bruising easily
  • Cuts bleeding for longer than normal
  • More frequent and/or severe nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums
  • Small red dots on the skin called petechiae
  • In women, periods may be heavier or more frequent

4. General symptoms may occur, including:

  • Night sweats
  • Joint or bone discomfort
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • A feeling of fullness or pain just below the ribs
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing, painful breathing
  • Lumps in the neck, armpits, abdomen, or groin caused by swollen glands known as lymph nodes

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a rare disease and other conditions can cause similar symptoms, so if you see any of the symptoms listed above in yourself or your child please speak to your doctor.

In this section

What is acute lymphoblastic leukemia?Causes & symptomsDiagnosisTypesTreatmentPrognosisRemissionRelapse

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Hear from Jaymz about his acute lymphoblastic leukemia journey

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