What is the pathophysiology of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)?

Updated: Jul 17, 2018
  • Author: Karen Seiter, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Answer

The malignant cells of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are lymphoid precursor cells (ie, lymphoblasts) that are arrested in an early stage of development. This arrest is caused by an abnormal expression of genes, often as a result of chromosomal translocations or abnormalities of chromosome number. The lymphoblasts replace the normal marrow elements, resulting in a decrease in the production of normal blood cells. Consequently, anemia, thrombocytopenia, and neutropenia occur, although typically to a lesser degree than is seen in acute myeloid leukemia. Lymphoblasts can also infiltrate outside the marrow, particularly in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes, resulting in enlargement of the latter organs.


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