Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), also known as chronic lymphoid leukemia, is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the blood and bone marrow, specifically in the lymphocytes. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside the bones where new blood cells are made. Lymphocytes are a group of white blood cells that help the body fight infections, but when lymphocytes become malignant they will overcrowd the bone marrow and prevent the body from making normal, healthy blood cells and platelets. These cells also circulate in the bloodstream, where they can then spread to other organs. Chronic forms of leukemia tend to progress more slowly than the acute forms. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia found in adults, particularly middle-aged and older.

Signs and symptoms of CLL often do not show up in early stages. However, CLL may cause one or more of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Enlarged lymph nodes or spleen
  • Excessive night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Frequent infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

The exact underlying cause or causes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia are unknown. However, potential risk factors include age, race, a family history of blood and bone marrow cancers, exposure to certain chemicals, and genetic predispositions. Studies have shown that not all newly-diagnosed patients with CLL need immediate treatment.

Treatment options for CLL may vary depending on the stage of cancer and the overall health of the patient, but may include one or more of the following:

  • “Watch-and-wait”
  • Chemotherapy
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted drug therapy