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What Is T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

One sign of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a low red blood cell count.
A diagram of normal blood and blood from someone with leukemia.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a type of cancer which affects the blood and the bone marrow. This form of cancer can develop at any age, although it is most commonly found among children. Symptoms of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia are varied and may include weakness, fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes, or weight loss. Treatment for T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia usually involves the use of either chemotherapy or radiation therapy, although in more advances cases of this disease, these treatment options may be used in conjunction with one another.

The bone marrow is responsible for producing healthy white blood cells, designed to help the body fight infection. In T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, these white blood cells are abnormal and do not mature properly, making them ineffective at fighting infection. As these malignant cells continue to reproduce and spread, they crowd out healthy blood cells, leading to this potentially fatal form of blood cancer. The prognosis is much better when this disease is diagnosed in the early stages, although treatment is often successful in advanced stages as well.

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The first noticeable symptoms of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia are often extreme fatigue and weakness. Routine blood tests may show a low red blood cell count, a condition known as anemia. Loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss frequently occur when this disease is present. The lymph nodes, liver, or spleen are often swollen, leading doctors to consider the possibility of cancer. The patient may develop frequent infections throughout the body due to a lack of healthy white blood cells.

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a rapidly-moving type of cancer, so treatment is typically started immediately after diagnosis. Chemotherapy is a standard type of treatment for this disease. This involves the use of specialized drugs which contain strong chemicals designed to destroy cancer cells and slow the progression of the disease. Chemotherapy may cause significant side effects such as hair loss, nausea, and vomiting. Additional medications are often given during treatment to combat extreme cases of nausea and vomiting.

Radiation therapy involves the use of high levels of energy to destroy cancer cells and is another commonly used form of treatment for T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Symptoms of radiation therapy are similar to those caused by chemotherapy treatment. In advanced cases of this form of cancer, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used at the same time, or one treatment method may be used first with the other being used following completion of the first type of treatment.

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