Is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer involving your blood cells and
blood-forming tissues. There are many types of leukemia, each affecting
different kinds of blood cells. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, affects
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell. CLL affects B
lymphocytes, which are also called B cells. Normal B cells circulate in your
blood and help your body fight infection. Cancerous B cells don’t fight
infections like normal B cells do. As the number of cancerous B cells gradually
increases, they crowd out normal lymphocytes and cause bone marrow failure.
Experts don’t know what causes CLL.
Are the Symptoms of CLL?
Some people with CLL may not have any symptoms, and their
cancer may only be discovered during a routine blood test. If you do exhibit
symptoms, they typically include:
- frequent infections or illness
- unexplained or unintended weight loss
- night sweats
During a physical examination, your doctor may also find
that your spleen, liver, or lymph nodes are enlarged. These can be signs that your
cancer has spread to these organs. This often happens in advanced cases of CLL.
If this happens to you, you may feel painful lumps in your neck or a sensation
of fullness or swelling in your belly.
Are the Risk Factors for CLL?
CLL is rarely diagnosed in people under the age of 40 years
old. It’s typically found in people over the age of 70. It affects more men
than women. It’s more common in Jewish people of Russian or Eastern European
Is CLL Diagnosed and Staged?
If your doctor suspects you have CLL, they may use various
tests to confirm your diagnosis. For example, they will probably order one or
more of the following tests.
Complete Blood Count
(CBC) with White Blood Cell Differential
Your doctor can use this blood test to measure the number of
different types of cells in your blood, including different types of white
blood cells. If you have CLL, you will have more lymphocytes than normal.
Your doctor can use this blood test to learn if you have
enough antibodies to fight infections.
Bone Marrow Biopsy
In this procedure, your doctor will insert a needle with a
special tube into your hip or breastbone to get a sample of your bone marrow
Your doctor can use the pictures created by this scan to
look for swollen lymph nodes in your chest or abdomen.
If you’re diagnosed with CLL, your doctor will order further
testing to gauge the extent of the disease. This helps your doctor classify the
stage of your cancer, which will guide your treatment plan. To stage your CLL,
your doctor will probably order blood tests to obtain your red blood cell count
and specific blood lymphocyte count. They will also probably check if your
lymph nodes, spleen, or liver are enlarged.
Under the “Rai” system of classification, CLL is staged from
0 to 4. Rai stage 0 CLL is the least severe, while Rai stage 4 is the most
severe. For treatment purposes, the stages are also grouped into levels of
risk. Rai stage 0 is low risk, Rai stages 1 and 2 are intermediate risk, and Rai
stages 3 and 4 are high risk, explains the American
Is the Treatment for CLL?
If you have low-risk CLL, your doctor will probably advise
you to simply wait and watch for new symptoms. Your disease may not worsen or require
treatment for years. Some people never require treatment.
In some cases of low-risk CLL, your doctor may recommend
treatment. For example, they may recommend it if you have:
- persistent, recurrent infections
- low blood cell counts
- fatigue or night sweats
- painful lymph nodes
If you have intermediate- or high-risk CLL, your doctor will
probably advise you to proceed with treatment right away.
To treat CLL, your doctor may recommend:
This procedure, which is the principal treatment for CLL, involves
using medications to kill cancer cells. Depending on the exact medications
prescribed, you may take them intravenously or orally.
In this procedure, high-energy particles or waves are used
to kill cancer cells. If you have painful swollen lymph nodes, radiation
therapy may help shrink them and relieve your pain.
If your blood cell
counts are low, you may need to receive blood transfusions through an
intravenous (IV) line to increase them.
Bone Marrow or Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant
If you have
high-risk CLL, this treatment may be an option. It involves taking
stem cells from the bone marrow or blood of a donor — usually a family member —
and transplanting them into your body to help establish a new immune system.
There Any Possible Complications of Treatment?
Chemotherapy weakens your immune system, leaving you more
vulnerable to infections. You may also develop abnormal levels of antibodies
and low blood cell counts during chemotherapy.
Other common side effects of chemotherapy include:
- hair loss
- mouth sores
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
In some cases, chemotherapy can contribute to the
development of other cancers.
Radiation, blood transfusions, and bone marrow or peripheral
blood stem cell transplants can also involve side effects. Talk with your
doctor about the expected side effects of your treatment. They can tell you which
symptoms and side effects require medical attention.
Is the Long-Term Outlook for CLL?
Survival rates for CLL vary widely. Your age, gender,
chromosome abnormalities, and cancer cell characteristics can affect your
outlook. The disease is rarely cured, but most people live for many years with
CLL, reports the American
Ask your doctor about your specific case. They can help you
understand how far your cancer has progressed. They can also discuss your
treatment options and long-term outlook.