Published on October 13, 2020
Helpful Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Information
Are you seeking reliable and helpful information on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)? Hear an ALL doctor and expert share important insights, including the differences between B-cell and T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, how ALL is diagnosed, the various treatment options that are available today, and which new therapies may be offered soon.
Dr. Nitin Jain, Associate Professor, Department of Leukemia at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will also share his views on clinical trials for ALL and give his recommendations for current patients.
Transcript | Doctor Shares Important Information on Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Dr. Jain: Being an oncologist and especially being a leukemia doctor, I think the most gratifying thing is seeing patients responding to treatment. When you see a patient on day one of their leukemia diagnosis, obviously they're very, very distraught, their family is distraught. So, sitting down with them, explaining the process, what the leukemia is, how are we going to manage it, and help them through that.
What is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a disease of immune cells, generally called B-cells or T-cells. So, all of us have immune cells in our body where the normal function of these cells is to protect us from infections and viruses and other things, but in certain patients, these immune cells can get deranged and they acquire certain chromosome changes in them, and they become cancerous. So typically, it happens in the blood, the bone marrow, the lymph nodes, where these cells start growing.
Now, depending on which kind of an immune cell, whether it's a B-cell or T-cell, becomes cancerous, it is called a B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And these disorders, it's important to know which subtype of the cancer you have, which subtype of this leukemia you have because the treatments are actually very different.
So, acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a rare disease. In the United States, every year approximately 6,000 patients are diagnosed with this disease. This compared to other cancers, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, where the incidence is more than several hundred thousand. So, if you are diagnosed, or someone you know is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, it's a rare disease. And actually, half of the 6,000 cases are in the kids. Slightly, actually more than half are in the kids and rest are 18 years and older.
The outcome, especially for the children who develop this disease is really spectacular in a way that long-term remissions are common and the majority of the kids, actually 90% of the kids, are alive and in remission 10 plus years down the line.
What is CAR T-Cell Therapy?
I think the biggest excitement in the field has been what is called CAR T-cell therapy, which stands for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, which is a strategy where your own immune cells are taken from the patient, those cells are then re-engineered in the lab, and then put back to the patient few weeks down the line after receiving some chemotherapy. And then, especially among the pediatric patients, this is actually an FDA-approved strategy right now, and the results have been quite spectacular.
Doctor’s Advice on Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma Treatment
I think there are several centers in the United States who really are centers of excellence, where they treat more patients with this disease than other centers. So, I think it will be important if you're diagnosed with this condition to seek expert opinion at a major medical center which have the capability and have that track record of treating patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And also important is that a lot of research is being done to improve the outcomes of the patients, and I think I would strongly advise that you should look into enrolling in a clinical trial at one of these major centers where many times we are looking at new drugs, new clinical trials for patients in your situation.