Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia: How Is It Different To Acute Myeloid Leukaemia?

When it comes to blood cancers, understanding the distinctions between different types is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. While Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) may sound similar, there are differences between the two blood cancers.

The primary difference between Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia is the type of white blood cell in which it originates. AML affects myeloid cells, while ALL affects lymphocytes.

Some may wonder if AML is worse than ALL? Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) are both serious forms of blood cancer. The prognosis for both conditions is poorer in adults when compared to children.


Risk Factors 

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The main causes of acute leukaemia are unknown and usually there is no specific trigger for this. In rare cases the leukaemia can be familial, which means the leukaemia is passed down from one generation to another, but this is very uncommon.

There are several factors that do increase the risk of developing leukaemia.

Acute leukaemia develops due to mutations within the genetic make-up (DNA) of the bone marrow stem cells. These mutations cause the white cells in the bone marrow to grow faster and often without the ability to function like normal white cells. As the leukaemia cells (blasts) expand, they stop the normal functioning of the bone marrow and lead to the various symptoms usually associated with acute leukaemia.



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Both AML and AML are usually diagnosed from a blood test and bone marrow assessment.

Specific tests, including flow cytometry, karyotyping, cytogenetics-FISH and molecular mutation analysis, will be performed to confirm the diagnosis of ALL and AML, classify the subtype and the prognostic risk group.

Patients may wonder how you would rule out ALL if AML is suspected. When patients with acute leukaemia undergo a bone marrow assessment, the specific tests performed during this assessment will usually be able to distinguish ALL from AML.



Staging for ALL and AML are relatively similar. Unlike some other forms of cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) has no standard staging system. Instead, patients with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia are usually classified by risk category. This is determined by factors including the age of the patient, white cell count at presentation, subtype of ALL, response to initial therapy, and any cytogenetic or molecular abnormalities on bone marrow assessment.

For example, high-risk ALL is defined by features including the patient’s age (adults generally are more likely to have higher risk disease), subtype of ALL, and adverse cytogenetic or molecular features. Patients with high-risk ALL are less likely to respond to standard therapy and have an increased risk of disease relapse even after successful initial treatment.

Similarly, AML staging is classified by risk categories (poor risk, standard risk and favourable risk). This is determined by the genetics of the AML at the time of diagnosis by looking at tests such as the cytogenetics and AML specific molecular panel.


Treatment Outcomes

The chances of a cure for ALL through modern-day treatments mean that 80-90% of children are alive and well at 5 years with current protocols. The 5-year overall survival is approximately 65% for adolescents, 40% for adults, and 15-20% for older patients.

For patients with standard risk AML, approximately 50% of patients may be successfully treated with existing treatments. For patients with favourable risk AML, approximately 60-70% of patients may have a durable remission. However, for patients with poor risk AML, the chances of a durable remission are less than 25%.


Understand Your Treatment Options with CFCH

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Being diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) can be an overwhelming experience, filled with uncertainties. Get in touch with the CFCH team where we provide you with personalised support, answer your questions, and guide you through your treatment journey.

The information on the Centre For Clinical Haematology website is intended for educational use.  It should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a qualified health professional.

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Posted by CFCH

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