Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a disease of the blood and bone marrow in which too many lymphocytes, or white blood cells, are produced and is the second most diagnosed form of leukemia in adults but rarely affects children.
This condition develops when the body’s stem cells become abnormal lymphocytes rather than healthy white blood cells. These lymphocytes greatly reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection. As the unhealthy cells multiply, they crowd out the body’s healthy red and white blood cells, as well as platelets.
Signs & Symptoms
The symptoms of this condition can vary from patient to patient, but the most common symptoms are:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Fever and infection
- Unexplained weight loss
Diagnosis & Treatment of Lymphocytic Leukemia
CLL is diagnosed by one of a number of tests:
- Physical exam
- Complete blood count (CBC): This measures the amount of red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, in the bloodstream. This also measures the amount of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein, in the blood
- Immunophenotyping: In this procedure, a small amount of blood is drawn and examined under a microscope to locate abnormal cells and their point of origin.
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: In this procedure, a small amount of bone marrow (the spongy center), bone, and blood are collected and examined under a microscope. This biopsy is the most definitive way to diagnose lymphocytic leukemia.
Treatment typically includes chemotherapy and/or radiation. For patients with more advanced cases, a doctor may recommend a bone marrow transplant, in which abnormal cells are removed and doses of healthy blood and bone marrow cells are injected into the body.
A patient’s outlook depends on the stage of the disease, blood cell counts, and whether the cancerous lymphocytes have metastasized, or spread, to other parts of the body. Recovery also largely depends on how well the patient responds to treatment and whether their illness is a newly-diagnosed or recurring case. CLL can sometimes develop into more serious conditions, such as lymphoma or prolymphocytic leukemia.