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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It is a slow-growing cancer that originates in the white blood cells known as lymphocytes, which play a crucial role in the immune system’s defense against infections.

In CLL, abnormal lymphocytes accumulate in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, and other organs, eventually leading to a decrease in the number of healthy blood cells. The abnormal cells also interfere with the production of normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and increased risk of infections and bleeding.

Symptoms

Many people suffering from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) may not experience signs and symptoms in the early stages. The most prominent signs that they might notice include –

  • Fatigue and weakness – It can cause fatigue and weakness due to a decrease in red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes – It can cause swelling in the lymph nodes, especially in the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Night sweats – Some people with CLL experience night sweats, which are excessive sweating during the night.
  • Fever – It can cause fever, which may be persistent or intermittent.
  • Weight loss – Some people with this disease may experience unexplained weight loss.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

  • Infections – People with CLL may be at increased risk of infections due to a weakened immune system.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding – It can cause a decrease in platelets, which are cells that help the blood clot. This can result in easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Anemia – It can cause a decrease in red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. Anemia can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

Experiencing one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you may have developed Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). therefore, it is important to visit a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis of your condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

Doctors aren’t quite sure of the exact cause of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. The abnormal lymphocytes start accumulating in the blood which also causes changes in the DNA of blood-producing cells ultimately harming healthy cells.

There are several risk factors and complications that may increase your chances of developing chronic lymphocytic leukemia such as –

  • Age – Older adults are more likely prone than younger people
  • Race – This disease is mostly found in white people compared to people of other races.
  • Family history –  may run in families, and people with a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) who has CLL are at higher risk.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals – Exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, has been linked to an increased risk of CLL.
  • Weakened immune system – People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or who have undergone an organ transplant, may have an increased risk of developing CLL.
  • Radiation exposure – People who have been exposed to high levels of radiation, such as those who have undergone radiation therapy for other types of cancer, may have an increased risk of developing CLL.
  • Ethnicity – It is more common in people of European descent.

Having one or more of the above complications does not mean you will develop Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Many people with CLL have no risk factors associated while some may have certain risk factors that lead to the occurrence of this disease. 

Diagnosis and Tests

The tests used to diagnose Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) will be determined by a healthcare professional through physical examination, family history, and symptoms of an individual. The most common tests performed for accurate diagnosis are –

  1. Blood TestsThe procedure determines the number of blood cells in the sample, the type of lymphocytes, and lymphocytes for genetic changes.
  2. Bone marrow biopsyA bone marrow biopsy involves taking a sample of bone marrow from the hip bone or another site, using a needle. The sample is examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
  3. Imaging tests -Imaging tests such as a CT scan or ultrasound may be ordered to look for enlarged lymph nodes or other signs of CLL.
  4. Blood smear – A blood smear is a test that involves examining a sample of blood under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
  5. Immunophenotyping – Immunophenotyping is a test that uses antibodies to identify the type of white blood cells present in the blood sample. This can help determine whether the abnormal cells are lymphocytes, and if they are CLL cells.
  6. Bone marrow biopsy – A bone marrow biopsy involves taking a sample of bone marrow from the hip bone or another site, using a needle. The sample is examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.

Once Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is diagnosed, further tests may be done to determine the extent of the disease and to help guide treatment decisions. These tests may include additional blood tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy of any swollen lymph nodes or other affected organs.

Treatments

The treatment options for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) depend on several factors such as location, stage, signs and symptoms, overall health, and preferences of each individual patient. Some of the common treatments included are –

  1. Chemotherapy – It is a drug treatment that kills cancer-growing cells. It can be administered in a patient’s body through a vein or taken via pill form. The doctor may consider a single treatment or a combination of treatments depending on the condition.
  2. Targeted Therapy – It uses drugs that target specific proteins to stop the spread of cancer cells. 
  3. Immunotherapy – It uses the body’s own immune system to fight against cancer. It includes monoclonal bodies that directly target specific proteins in cancer cells. 
  4. Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
  5. Bone marrow transplant – Bone marrow transplant: Bone marrow transplant also known as stem cell transplant involves replacing the patient’s bone marrow with healthy stem cells from a donor.

The choice of treatment depends on several factors, including the stage and severity of CLL, the patient’s overall health, and the potential side effects of treatment. It is important to discuss treatment options with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for each individual case.

Clinical Trials

There are several clinical trials underway for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) that are exploring new treatments, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies. Clinical trials may involve testing new drugs or combinations of drugs, as well as new approaches to stem cell transplantation.

People who are interested in participating in a clinical trial for CLL should talk to their healthcare provider. They can help determine if a clinical trial is a good option and help connect the person with a clinical trial that may be suitable for their specific case.

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