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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

In this section, you or a loved one can find out more about medical treatments and practical information about CLL. Read on to find answers to some of your questions as well as links to other information. Being informed is an important first step toward becoming an active decision-maker in your care plan.

What Is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)?

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that starts from white blood cells (called lymphocytes) in the bone marrow and then spreads into the blood. CLL mainly affects older adults.

What Causes Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)?

Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. In CLL, the leukemia cells often build up slowly over time. Many people don't have any symptoms for a few years. In time, the cells can spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.

What Are the Effects of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)?

Chronic leukemias, like CLL, can take a long time before they cause problems, and most people can live for many years.

Many of the signs and symptoms of advanced CLL occur because the leukemia cells replace the bone marrow's normal blood-making cells. As a result, people do not make enough red blood cells, properly functioning white blood cells, and blood platelets.

Which Body Parts Are Affected?

Many people with CLL do not have any symptoms. The leukemia is usually found when their doctor orders blood tests for an unrelated health problem or during a routine checkup and they are found to have a high number of white blood cells.

Symptoms are often vague and can include the following:

Feeling tired
Weight loss
Night sweats
Enlarged lymph nodes
Pain or a sense of fullness in the belly, caused by an enlarged spleen and/or liver

Are There Other Complications?


People with CLL have a higher risk of infections. This is mainly because their immune system is not working as well as it should. People with CLL may have very high white blood cell counts because of the excess number of white blood cells, but the leukemia white blood cells do not protect against infection the way normal white blood cells do.


Anemia can cause tiredness, weakness, and shortness of breath.

Bruising and bleeding

A shortage of blood platelets can lead to excess bruising, bleeding, severe nosebleeds and bleeding gums.

Additional complications

Immune system: In some people with CLL, the immune system cells make abnormal antibodies that attack normal blood cells. This is known as autoimmunity. It can lead to low blood counts.

Lifestyle Options

For most people, regardless of having CLL or not, exercise, healthy eating and good sleep habits are recommended. A healthy lifestyle can lead to enhanced quality of life for most people. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes.

Physical activity

Research has shown that exercise is safe and can improve how well you function physically along with your quality of life.

How regular exercise can help:

Control your weight
Improve balance
Improve blood flow
Improve quality of life
Improve self-esteem
Keep or improve your physical abilities
Lessen fatigue
Lessen nausea
Lessen the risk of osteoporosis
Lower anxiety
Lower the risk of heart disease
Make you less dependent on others

What can patients do?

Walk every day
Talk with your cancer team about the kind of exercise you can do to reduce tiredness

What can caregivers do?

Exercise/walk with the patient
Encourage the patient to do as much for themselves as they can

Please be sure to consult with your physician.

Complementary Therapy Options

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets or other methods such as acupuncture or massage. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor's medical treatment. Be sure to talk to your cancer care team, they can help you learn what is known about the method, which can help you make an informed decision.

Please be sure to consult with your physician.

Medical Treatment

Your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Because chronic lymphocytic leukemia often grows slowly, not everyone needs to be treated right away. When treatment is needed, the main treatments used are:


Chemotherapy (chemo) uses anti-cancer drugs that are taken by mouth or injected into a vein or into a muscle to destroy or control cancer cells. Immunotherapy uses antibodies that are injected into a vein to destroy or control cancer cells.

Targeted therapy

Unlike standard chemotherapy drugs, which work by attacking rapidly growing cells in general (including cancer cells), these drugs attack one or more specific targets on or in cancer cells.

In considering your treatment options, it's a good to seek a second opinion. This gives you more information so you can feel confident with your treatment plan.

Please be sure to consult with your physician.


Source: American Cancer Society -