Symptoms and diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of ALL include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Anaemia (fewer red blood cells)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Recurrent infections
  • Bleeding and unexplained bruising
  • Aching bones and joints
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged glands in your neck, underarm, stomach and groin
  • Headaches and vomiting

Even though these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than leukaemia, do have them checked by your family doctor (GP).

Screening

Testing for cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national leukaemia screening programme in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. If you are worried about developing leukaemia, contact the National Cancer Helpline 1800 200 700 or speak to your GP.

Diagnosis

Visit your family doctor (GP) first if you are worried about any symptoms. He or she will examine you and arrange blood tests if needed. If your blood test is abnormal, you will be referred to a specialist called a haematologist, who treats abnormal changes to blood and bone marrow. At the hospital some of the following tests may be done to diagnose ALL:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests, such as a full blood count
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Chromosome studies (cytogenetics)
  • Immunophenotyping

A bone marrow biopsy involves taking a small sample of marrow from the inside of your hip or breastbone and examining it under a microscope. Special tests can also be done on blood or bone marrow samples. For example, the number and shape of chromosomes in your blood cells, especially the lymphocytes, can be examined. These are then compared to normal cells. Sometimes in ALL, part of one chromosome is moved to another chromosome and a new one formed. This is called the Philadelphia chromosome. Immunophenotyping can check what kind of proteins or markers are on the surface of the leukaemia cells.

Other tests

  • Chest X-Ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Lymph gland biopsy

The above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm