Lymphoblastic leukemia is a type of blood cancer that affects a specific type of blood cells. The terms “lymphoblastic” or “lymphocytic” refer to a cancer affecting lymphocytes, or white blood cells, such as the B and T lymphocytes, or NK cells. Approximately five percent of all leukemias are of this type.
In all forms of leukemia, the proliferation of abnormal cells in the blood stream interferes with the production of normal, fully-functional red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. As a result, people with leukemia may develop anemia (iron deficiency), have a weakened immune system, and may experience blood clotting disorders.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, approximately 5,900 people were diagnosed with leukemia in 2016. The median age of diagnosis is 15 years old. Some of the symptoms associated with this disease include fever, fatigue, and easy bleeding or bruising.
Risk factors for acute lymphoblastic leukemia include:
- Having had radiation or chemotherapy for other types of cancer;
- Having a sibling, especially a twin, with leukemia;
- Exposure to ionizing radiation or chemicals such as benzene; and
- Certain genetic disorders.