Disease progression of acute lymphocytic leukemia

Cancer cells can spread from where they start to other parts of the body. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming tissue in the bone marrow, and it can develop wherever the blood travels. As a result, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is often widespread when it is found.

Understanding how a type of cancer usually grows and spreads helps your healthcare team plan your treatment and future care. ALL cells usually collect in:

  • the peripheral blood and bone marrow
  • the lymph nodes
  • the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS)
  • the liver
  • the spleen
  • a joint or along the surface of bones
  • the thymus – often affected with T-cell ALL
  • the skin, testicles, kidneys or eyes (in rare cases)

Leukemia does not usually form solid tumours in these organs. The buildup of abnormal cells in the organs affects them so they don’t work normally.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Leukemia - Acute Lymphocytic (Adults). Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2013.
  • Goekbuget N, Hoelzer D . Diagnosis and Treatment of adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Wiernik PH, Goldman JM, Dutcher JP & Kyle RA (eds.). Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood. 5th ed. Springer; 2013: 20: pp. 331-354.
  • National Cancer Institute. Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2014.
  • Seiter K . Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. eMedicine.Medscape.com. WebMD LLC; 2014.