Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

A kind of blood and bone marrow cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) affects the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are created.

The word "chronic" in chronic lymphocytic leukemia refers to how slowly it usually advances compared to other kinds of leukemia. The word "lymphocytic" in chronic lymphocytic leukemia refers to the lymphocytes, a class of white blood cells that aid in the body's ability to fight infection.

The majority of people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia are elderly individuals. The condition can be managed with the use of therapies.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Causes

What triggers the process that leads to chronic lymphocytic leukemia is unknown to medical professionals. What is known is that something takes place to modify (mutate) the DNA of cells that produce blood. The instructions that inform a cell what to do are encoded in its DNA. The modifications instruct the blood cells to create aberrant, useless lymphocytes.

These aberrant lymphocytes not only lack effectiveness but also live and reproduce when normal lymphocytes would perish. The blood and certain organs become clogged with aberrant lymphocytes, which leads to difficulties. They could prevent the creation of blood cells and push healthy cells out of the bone marrow.

Researchers and medical professionals are trying to pinpoint the precise process that leads to chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Symptoms

Many individuals with chronic lymphocytic leukemia initially show no symptoms. Symptoms and symptoms could emerge as the malignancy advances. They might consist of −

  • Painless, yet enlarged, lymph nodes

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Upper left abdominal pain that might be brought on by an enlarged spleen

  • Sweats at night

  • Loss of weight

Many Infections

If you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, infections may come up often and become life-threatening. Occasionally infections arise because your blood doesn't have enough germ-fighting antibodies (immunoglobulins). Immunoglobulin infusions regularly may be advised by your doctor.

A Change to a Cancer Kind That is More Severe

A tiny percentage of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may progress to diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a more dangerous kind of cancer. Physicians sometimes refer to this as Richter's syndrome.

Increased Chance of Getting Additional Malignancies

A person's chance of developing additional malignancies, such as skin cancer, lung cancer, and digestive tract cancer, is higher if they have chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Immune System Difficulties

A small percentage of persons with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may experience an immune system issue that leads the body's defense mechanisms to incorrectly target the platelets or red blood cells (autoimmune hemolytic anemia) (autoimmune thrombocytopenia).

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Risk Factors

The major risk factors include −

  • Age. Older persons are more frequently affected by this condition.

  • Ethnicity. Compared to persons of other races, white people are more prone to acquire chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  • Bone marrow and blood malignancies run in the family. Your risk may be increased if you have a family history of bone marrow or blood malignancies, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  • Chemical exposure. The use of Agent Orange and other herbicides and insecticides during the Vietnam War has been connected to a higher incidence of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  • A situation when there are too many lymphocytes. An increase in one kind of lymphocyte (B cells) in the blood is a symptom of monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL). A small percentage of MBL patients may progress to chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Diagnosis

Blood tests that are used to detect chronic lymphocytic leukemia include those that −

  • Make a count of the cells in a blood sample. A blood sample's lymphocyte count may be determined using a complete blood count. B cells are one kind of lymphocyte, and a large number of them might mean you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  • Identify the lymphocyte type that is implicated. Determine if an increase in lymphocytes is the result of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, another type of blood illness, or your body's response to another event, such as an infection, with the aid of a test called flow cytometry or immunophenotyping.

  • If there is chronic lymphocytic leukemia, flow cytometry may also be used to examine the leukemia cells and look for traits that can be used to gauge how aggressive the cells will be.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Treatment

The doctor may suggest the following treatments based on the severity of the condition −

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a pharmacological therapy that destroys rapidly proliferating cells, such as cancer cells.

  • Specific pharmacological treatment. Targeted medication therapies concentrate on certain defects that are prevalent in cancer cells. Targeted medication therapies can kill cancer cells by preventing these aberrations.

  • Immunotherapy. Your immune system is used in immunotherapy to combat cancer. Due to the cancer cell’s ability to create proteins that aid in their concealment from immune system cells, your body's disease-fighting immune system may not attack your cancer. Immunotherapy affects that process to work.

  • Transplant of bone marrow. Strong chemotherapy medications are used during a bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, to destroy the stem cells in your bone marrow that are producing sick lymphocytes.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Prevention

One can prevent this condition by taking the following measures −

  • By committing to behaviors that promote a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of cancer. These suggestions can reduce your chance of contracting this illness and enhance your general well-being.

  • Stay away from cigarettes. Many malignancies have been linked to tobacco use, which also causes 90% of lung cancer fatalities.

  • Continue to be active. The risk of breast and colon cancer is correlated with your level of physical activity. Inactivity-related excess weight gain raises the risk of certain malignancies.

  • Limit alcohol consumption. It's crucial to pay attention to how much alcohol you consume. Even moderate alcohol consumption can raise the chance of developing colon, breast, esophageal, and oropharyngeal cancer.

  • Being proactive in your awareness of your health is always good.


An interprofessional team composed of a general practitioner, internist, hematologist/oncologist, hematopathologist, and radiologist should be used to manage CLL because it is a complicated condition.

It is not always advisable to treat CLL patients because the majority of them have no symptoms. Whether a disease is fast advancing or has severe symptoms will determine the recommended course of treatment.

Early therapy is indicated by symptoms like extreme weariness that interferes with daily activities, B-symptoms, recurring infections, or an increased tumor burden. Early therapy is also advised in cases of rapidly advancing illness, such as when the time it takes for the absolute lymphocyte count to double is less than 12 months.

Regular follow-up at intervals of three months is advised for patients who are not being considered for therapy. Further treatment should be explored with the oncologist if the patient's test results have become progressively abnormal or if their symptoms have gotten worse.

Depending on the signs and the progression of the illness, a judgment on the necessity for therapy might be made after a year.

Symptomatic CLL is treated, and despite numerous recent breakthroughs, it remains an incurable illness. Nonetheless, it seems that longevity is improving to some extent due to the employment of more recent biological agents. Those who are symptomatic may have a normal lifespan, while those who are asymptomatic may not. The outlook depends on the disease's features and underlying comorbidities for symptomatic people.

Dr. Durgesh Kumar Sinha
Dr. Durgesh Kumar Sinha


Updated on: 30-Mar-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started