Patient's Complete Guide to CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Overview of CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a cancer of lymphocytes or white blood cells (WBCs). Lymphocytes are defense cells of the body that fight against diseases or cancers. These cells are produced inside the spongy bone marrow. In CLL, the body produces abnormal lymphocytes in high numbers. This cancer progressed slowly, therefore, called “chronic” and remained “asymptomatic”. At early stages of CLL, treatment is not required but at advanced stages, it should be treated properly.
Occurrence of CLL
CLL is most common in older adults, especially those above 70 years of age. Every year it accounts for about 1/3 of the cancer cases. On average, men’s risk of getting CLL is 1 in 175. It is most common in men as compared to women.
Signs and Symptoms of CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Many people with CLL experience no early symptoms. However, if symptoms appear they include:
- Enlarged, but painless, lymph nodes
- Night sweats:
- Pain in the upper left portion of the abdomen
- Frequent infections
- Weight loss
Types of CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Often, cancers are staged according to their extent. In the case of CLL, the doctor after diagnosis determines the stage of cancer. CLL can be staged as:
People having early-stage CLL don’t require treatment. However, intermediate and advanced stage CLL should be immediately treated.
Causes of CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
The exact cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is unknown. However, some evidence suggests that this condition can be caused by the mutation in the gene of blood-producing cells. It results in the production of abnormal and ineffective lymphocytes.
These abnormal lymphocytes continuously multiply until the normal lymphocytes die. These abnormal lymphocytes accumulate in the blood and cause complications. Due to their accumulation in the bone marrow, normal blood cell production interferes.
Risk Factors of CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Following are some factors that increase the risk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia:
- Age: CLL most often occurs in older adults. On average, people in their 70s are affected by this disease.
- Race: Light-skin people are at higher risk of developing CLL as compared to dark-skin people.
- Exposure to chemicals: Certain herbicides and insecticides can increase the risk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
- Family History: If a family member has chronic lymphocytic leukemia or other blood and bone marrow lymphomas your chances of developing CLL are increased. As CLL can also be genetic.
Health-Related Complications of CLL
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia can cause some serious health-related complications such as:
- Infections: People with CLL often experience recurrent infections of the upper or lower respiratory tract. Most of the time these infections are common. However, in some cases, these infections can be life-threatening.
- Aggressive Form of Cancer: In some rare cases, CLL switches to a more aggressive and serious form of cancer such as B-cell lymphoma. It is also known as Richter's syndrome.
- Increased risk of other cancers: People having CLL often suffer from other types of cancer such as skin cancer, and cancers of the lung or digestive tract.
- Immune System Problems: In some rare cases, people with CLL develop an immune disorder that causes the immune cells to attack immune cells rather than fight disease-causing cells.
There are no defined ways to prevent this disease. However, you can adopt some of the following practices to improve your lifestyle.
- Limit your alcohol consumption, as it has been the root cause of a number of cancers. Alcohol even if consumed in moderate amounts can be a huge trigger.
- Stay physically active by exercising every day. Excess weight gained from not being physically active can cause multiple complications including cancers.
- Avoiding all kinds of tobacco products can be greatly helpful to avoid mutations in the body.
CLL can be diagnosed by the following tests:
Blood tests that are usually performed for the diagnosis of CLL are::
- Complete Blood Count: Complete blood count is performed to check the number of lymphocytes in a blood sample. High levels of B cells or lymphocytes indicate CLL.
- Flow Cytometry: This test is also known as immunophenotyping. It is performed to determine whether the CLL is due to elevated levels of lymphocytes or an infection.
- Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH): FISH is performed to check for any chromosomal abnormalities inside the affected lymphocytes.
Some other tests may include:
- Tests of leukaemia cells
- Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration
- Imaging tests (CT, PET)
Treatment of CLL-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia | When to Consult a Doctor
Treatment options for CLL depend on the following factors:
- Stage of cancer
- Signs and symptoms
Treatments for Intermediate and Advanced Stages
For the treatment of intermediate or advanced stage CLL, the following approaches may be used:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a treatment approach in which growing cancer cells are killed by a drug. This drug can be administered either via a vein or taken as a pill. Your doctor may recommend a single drug or combination of drugs depending on the stage of cancer.
- Targeted Drug Therapy: In this approach, cancer cells are targeted.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a treatment that boosts the body's immune system to kill cancer cells. For this purpose, specific substances either made in the laboratory or naturally in the body are used to boost the immune system.
- Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell transplant is also termed as bone marrow transplant. In this approach, specific chemotherapy drugs are used to kill the stem cells that produce abnormal lymphocytes. After that healthy stem cells are transplanted in the bone marrow of the patient.
If you experience any signs and symptoms of CLL that is persistent and worrisome seek medical care as soon as possible.