There are many blood conditions and cancers. Common blood disorders include anemia; bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia; blood clots; and blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common form of leukemia in adults and can be extremely serious as it tends not to show any signs or symptoms until it’s at a more advanced stage.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia May Progress Unnoticed
CLL starts in the bone marrow in cells meant to become lymphocytes, or white blood cells. These abnormal cells can build up in your bone marrow for a long time, causing serious problems down the line. CLL usually doesn’t cause signs or symptoms and is found during a routine blood test. By the time symptoms are noticed, CLL is in an intermediate or advanced stage.
Doctors aren't certain what starts the process that causes chronic lymphocytic leukemia. What's known is that something happens to cause a genetic mutation in the DNA of blood-producing cells. This mutation causes the blood cells to produce abnormal, ineffective lymphocytes.
Those individuals who do develop signs and symptoms may experience:
- Enlarged lymph notes
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Pain in the upper left abdomen
- Frequent infections
Two Types of CLL
CLL can be either of two types. It can be the slow-growing type that may take a long time before the patient needs treatment – or, it can be a faster-growing type, which is a more serious disease. The leukemia cells from these two types look alike, but lab tests can tell the difference between them.
Treatment Options Depend on Several Factors
Your doctor uses the stage of your CLL, results from various tests, and your overall health to make recommendations about your treatment. Treatment may include chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, and bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant.
When to See a Doctor
If you do notice any of the symptoms listed above and have any of the following risk factors believed to be connected to CLL, schedule an appointment with your doctor:
- Being middle aged or older
- A family history of CLL or cancer of the lymph system
- Exposure to Agent Orange
If you have any of these risk factors and symptoms, contact your doctor for an appointment as soon as possible.
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