Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is 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. There are treatments to help control the disease.

How common are chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

This type of cancer can affect everyone, but it most commonly affects older adults.

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

Unfortunately, many individuals with chronic lymphocytic leukemia have no early symptoms. Those who do develop signs and symptoms may experience:

  • Enlarged, but painless, lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Pain in the upper left portion of the abdomen, which may be caused by an enlarged spleen
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent infections

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

Until now, doctors aren’t certain what begins the process that causes chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Doctors know that something happens 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.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

You may have higher risks for this condition if you are experiencing these following conditions:

  • Your age:Most people diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia are older than 60.
  • Your race: Whites are more likely to develop chronic lymphocytic leukemia than are people of other races.
  • Family history of blood and bone marrow cancers:A family history of chronic lymphocytic leukemia or other blood and bone marrow cancers may increase your risk.
  • Exposure to chemicals: Certain herbicides and insecticides, including Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War, have been linked to an increased risk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed and some tests will be also recommended by your doctor. Some tests may be ordered include:

Blood tests

Tests and procedures used to diagnose chronic lymphocytic leukemia include blood tests designed to:

  • Count the number of cells in a blood sample

A complete blood count may be used to count the number of lymphocytes in a blood sample. A high number of B cells, one type of lymphocyte, may indicate chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  • Determine the type of lymphocytes involved

A test called flow cytometry or immunophenotyping helps determine whether an increased number of lymphocytes is due to chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a different blood disorder or your body’s reaction to another process, such as infection.

  • Flow cytometry

If chronic lymphocytic leukemia is present, flow cytometry may also help analyze the leukemia cells for characteristics that help predict how aggressive the cells are.

Analyze lymphocytes for genetic abnormalities

A test called fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) examines the chromosomes inside the abnormal lymphocytes to look for abnormalities. Doctors sometimes use this information to determine your prognosis and help choose a treatment.

Other tests

In some cases, your doctor may order additional tests and procedures to aid in diagnosis, such as:

  • Tests of your leukemia cells that look for characteristics that could affect your prognosis
  • Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration
  • Imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT)

How is chronic lymphocytic leukemia treated?

It is believed that treatment may not be necessary in early stages. People with early-stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia typically don’t receive treatment, though clinical trials are evaluating whether early treatment may be helpful. Studies have shown that early treatment doesn’t extend lives for people with early-stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia. 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.

In term of intermediate and advanced stages, some treatments options will be recommended by your doctor. If your doctor determines your chronic lymphocytic leukemia is progressing or is in the intermediate or advanced stages, your treatment options may include:


Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy treatments can be administered through a vein or taken in pill form. Depending on your situation, your doctor may use a single chemotherapy drug or you may receive a combination of drugs.

Targeted drug therapy

Targeted drugs are designed to take advantage of the specific vulnerabilities of your cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs used in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia include alemtuzumab (Campath), ibrutinib (Imbruvica), idelalisib (Zydelig), lenalidomide (Revlimid), obinutuzumab (Gazyva), ofatumumab (Arzerra) and rituximab (Rituxan).

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

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 find out enough about your cancer to make decisions about your care, turn to family and friends for support, connect with other cancer survivors, explore ways to cope with the nagging, chronic nature of the disease.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: August 14, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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