Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Overview Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is a cancer of a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells are found in the bone marrow and other parts of the body. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form all blood cells.

CLL causes a slow increase in a certain type of white blood cells called B lymphocytes, or B cells. Cancer cells spread through the blood and bone marrow. CLL can also affect the lymph nodes or other organs such as the liver and spleen. CLL eventually can cause the bone marrow to lose its function.

Commonly Associated With

CLL; Leukemia – chronic lymphocytic (CLL); Blood cancer – chronic lymphocytic leukemia; Bone marrow cancer – chronic lymphocytic leukemia; Lymphoma – chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Causes Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

The cause of CLL is unknown. There is no link to radiation. It is unclear if certain chemicals can cause CLL. Exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War has been linked to a slightly increased risk of developing CLL.

CLL usually affects older adults, especially those over age 60. People under age 45 rarely develop CLL. CLL is more common in whites than in other ethnic groups. It is more common in men than in women. Some people with CLL have family members with the disease.

Symptoms Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Symptoms usually develop slowly. CLL often does not cause symptoms at first. It may be found by blood tests done in people for other reasons.

Symptoms of CLL may include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes, liver, or spleen
  • Excessive sweating, night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Infections that keep coming back (recur), despite treatment
  • Loss of appetite or becoming full too quickly (early satiety)
  • Weight loss

Exams & Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.

Tests to diagnose CLL may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) with blood cell differential.
  • Flow cytometry test of the white blood cells.
  • Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) is used to look at and count genes or chromosomes. This test may help diagnose CLL or guide treatment.
  • Testing for other gene changes may help predict how well cancer will respond to treatment.
  • People with CLL usually have a high white blood cell count.
  • Tests that look at changes in the DNA inside the cancer cells may also be done. Results from these tests and from staging tests help your provider determine your treatment.

Treatment Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

If you have early-stage CLL, your provider will just monitor you closely.

Treatment is not generally given for early-stage CLL unless you have:

  • Infections that keep coming back
  • Leukemia that is rapidly getting worse
  • Low red blood cell or platelet counts
  • Fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, or night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chemotherapy, including targeted medicines, are used to treat CLL. Your provider will determine which type of medicines are right for you.
  • Blood transfusions or platelet transfusions may be required if blood counts are low.
  • Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation may be used in younger people with advanced or high-risk CLL. A transplant is the only therapy that offers a potential cure for CLL, but it also has risks. Your provider will discuss the risks and benefits with you.

You and your provider may need to manage other concerns during your leukemia treatment, including:

  • Managing your pets during chemotherapy
  • Bleeding problems
  • Dry mouth
  • Eating enough calories
  • Safe eating during cancer treatment