Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow - the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
The term "chronic" in chronic lymphocytic leukemia comes from the fact that it typically progresses more slowly than other types of leukemia. The term "lymphocytic" in chronic lymphocytic leukemia comes from the cells affected by the disease — a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help your body fight infection.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia most commonly affects older adults. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatments can help control the disease.
Many people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia have no early symptoms. Those who do develop signs and symptoms may experience:
When to see a doctor
Doctors aren't certain what starts the process that causes chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Doctors know that something happens in order to cause a genetic mutation in the DNA of blood-producing cells. This mutation causes the blood cells to produce abnormal, ineffective lymphocytes — one type of white blood cell that helps your body fight infection.
Beyond being ineffective, these abnormal lymphocytes continue to live and multiply, when normal lymphocytes would die. The abnormal lymphocytes accumulate in the blood and certain organs, where they cause complications. They may crowd healthy cells out of the bone marrow and interfere with normal blood cell production.
Doctors and researchers are working to understand the exact mechanism that causes chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Factors that may increase the risk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia include:
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia may cause complications such as:
Preparing for your appointment
If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, start by making an appointment with your family doctor or a general practitioner. If your doctor determines you may have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood and bone marrow (hematologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For chronic lymphocytic leukemia, some basic questions include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions as they occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
In general, people with early-stage disease don't require immediate treatment. Those with intermediate-stage disease and advanced-stage disease may be given the option to begin treatment right away.
Treatments and drugs
Your treatment options for chronic lymphocytic leukemia depend on several factors, such as the stage of your cancer, whether you're experiencing signs and symptoms, your overall health, and your preferences.
Treatment may not be necessary in early stages
Rather than put you through the potential side effects and complications of treatment before you need it, doctors carefully monitor your condition and reserve treatment for when your leukemia progresses. Doctors call this watchful waiting.
Your doctor will plan a checkup schedule for you. You may meet with your doctor and have your blood tested every few months to monitor your condition.
Treatments for intermediate and advanced stages
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can take steps to keep your body healthy if you've been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Try to:
No alternative treatments have been proved to cure chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Alternative treatments for coping with fatigue
Talk to your doctor about your options. Together you can devise a plan to help you cope with fatigue.
Green tea extracts for people with early-stage leukemia
In a study of people with early-stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia, taking EGCG in pill form reduced some signs of the disease in a portion of the participants. For instance, some participants noticed that their enlarged lymph nodes decreased in size, and blood tests revealed some participants had fewer leukemia cells in their blood. Research into EGCG and green tea is ongoing.
EGCG is generally considered safe, though, at high doses, it can cause complications, such as liver problems, and it may interfere with some medications. Side effects can include nausea, abdominal pain and indigestion. If you're interested in trying EGCG, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits. Your doctor may suggest additional blood tests and exams to watch for signs of side effects.
Coping and support
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is typically a slow-growing cancer that may not require treatment. While some people may refer to this as a "good" type of cancer, it doesn't really make receiving a cancer diagnosis any easier. While you may initially be shocked and anxious about your diagnosis, you'll eventually find your own way of coping with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Until then, try to:
Last Updated: 2013-04-26
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