About Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is the most common form of leukemia in adults and accounts for approximately one-third of all leukemias. The majority of CLL cases are diagnosed when people are in their early 70s.


In a healthy body, different types of blood stem cells are produced that mature into red blood cells, lymphocytes (white blood cells), and platelets. In CLL, a higher-than-normal amount of blood stem cells become abnormal lymphocytes, as opposed to healthy white blood cells. These abnormal lymphocytes, also called leukemia cells, cannot fight infection like normal white blood cells do. In addition, as the leukemia cells multiply in the bone marrow and blood, they leave little room for healthy blood cells to survive. This can lead to anemia, infection, and easy bleeding.

The primary risk factors for this disease include: a family history of CLL, family history of cancer of the lymph system, above age 70, male, white, and exposure to Agent Orange. The risk of developing CLL does not appear to be associated with diet, infections, or smoking.

CLL leukemia cells grow slowly in the bone marrow before eventually entering the bloodstream. Frequently, CLL is present and silent for years before it spreads to other parts of the body (such as the liver, lymph nodes, and spleen) and begins to cause symptoms. It is an ongoing “chronic” disease that typically worsens very slowly and can be harder to cure than acute forms of leukemia. That is why CLL is often diagnosed only when a doctor orders blood tests for a different, unrelated health issue.

Once symptoms manifest, they may include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (sensed as lumps under the skin)
  • Night sweats
  • Pain, discomfort, or a sense of “fullness” in the stomach (even after only a small meal)
  • Inability to fight serious infections

The general medical consensus is that there are two different kinds of CLL. One type grows very slowly, and it can take a long while until the patient shows symptoms and requires treatment. The other type grows rapidly and is a more serious form of the disease. Only laboratory testing can differentiate between these two kinds of leukemia cells.


What is CLL?

In a healthy body, different types of blood stem cells are produced that mature into red blood cells, lymphocytes (white blood cells), and platelets. In CLL, a higher-than-normal amount of blood stem cells become abnormal lymphocytes, as opposed to healthy white blood cells. These abnormal lymphocytes, also called leukemia cells, cannot fight infection like normal white blood cells do. In addition, as the leukemia cells multiply in the bone marrow and blood, they leave little room for healthy blood cells to survive. This can lead to anemia, infection, and easy bleeding.

 

What are the Risk Factors for CLL?

The primary risk factors for this disease include: a family history of CLL, family history of cancer of the lymph system, above age 70, male, white, and exposure to Agent Orange. The risk of developing CLL does not appear to be associated with diet, infections, or smoking.

 

What are the Symptoms of CLL?

CLL leukemia cells grow slowly in the bone marrow before eventually entering the bloodstream. Frequently, CLL is present and silent for years before it spreads to other parts of the body (such as the liver, lymph nodes, and spleen) and begins to cause symptoms. It is an ongoing “chronic” disease that typically worsens very slowly and can be harder to cure than acute forms of leukemia. That is why CLL is often diagnosed only when a doctor orders blood tests for a different, unrelated health issue.

Once symptoms manifest, they may include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (sensed as lumps under the skin)
  • Night sweats
  • Pain, discomfort, or a sense of “fullness” in the stomach (even after only a small meal)
  • Inability to fight serious infections

 

How Many Types of CLL Are There?

The general medical consensus is that there are two different kinds of CLL. One type grows very slowly, and it can take a long while until the patient shows symptoms and requires treatment. The other type grows rapidly and is a more serious form of the disease. Only laboratory testing can differentiate between these two kinds of leukemia cells.

 

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