Types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia | Cancer Research UK
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Types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

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This page is about the different types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). There is information about

 

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Types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Doctors divide acute leukaemias into myeloid and lymphoblastic leukaemias. Lymphoblastic leukaemia can also be called lymphocytic leukaemia. But they also divide them into even smaller groups or subtypes. This is called classification.

Doctors mostly use the World Health Organisation (WHO) system. It is based on the type of lymphocyte that has become cancerous. This system helps doctors to plan treatment and predict how well the treatment will work. There are three different subtypes

  • Pre (precursor) B cell ALL is the most common type in adults
  • Mature B cell ALL – this type is identified by particular genetic changes
  • Pre (precursor) T cell ALL is more likely to affect young adults and is more common in men

Your doctors look at your leukaemia cells under a microscope to find which group your leukaemia is in.

Mixed type leukaemia

Some leukaemias seem to be a mixture of ALL and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Doctors call these acute biphenotypic leukaemias. Biphenotypic just means both types.

 

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How doctors group types of ALL

Doctors divide acute leukaemias into myeloid and lymphoblastic leukaemias. Lymphoblastic leukaemia can also be called lymphocytic leukaemia. But doctors also divide myeloid and lymphoblastic leukaemias into even smaller groups (subtypes). This is called classification. Knowing which group your leukaemia is in helps your doctor to plan your treatment. There are different classification systems that doctors use.

Doctors mostly use the World Health Organisation (WHO) system. It is based on the type of lymphocyte that has become cancerous. This system helps doctors to plan treatment and predict how well the treatment will work. There are three different subtypes

  • Pre (precursor) B cell ALL is the most common type in adults
  • Mature B cell ALL – this type is identified by particular genetic changes
  • Pre (precursor) T cell ALL is more likely to affect young adults and is more common in men

Mature B cell ALL is sometimes called Burkitt type ALL because it is similar to another cancer called Burkitt lymphoma.

An older system that doctors use less often is the FAB system (French American British classification system). The FAB classification also divides ALL into three types: L1 to L3. In L1 the lymphocytes look quite like mature lymphocytes. In L3 the lymphocytes are very immature and look abnormal. L2 is somewhere in between and is the most common type in adults.

Your doctors look at your leukaemia cells under a microscope to find which WHO or FAB group your leukaemia is in. They also look at proteins on the leukaemia cells (known as antibody markers). And they look at any chromosome changes in your leukaemia cells (known as cytogenetics).

 

Mixed type leukaemia

Some leukaemias seem to be a mixture of ALL and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) . The abnormal cells have proteins (markers) from both types. Doctors call these acute biphenotypic leukaemias. Biphenotypic just means both types.

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Updated: 5 May 2015