What is leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer Overview of Cancer Cancer is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells are the tiny building blocks of your body. Cells specialize in what they do. For example, your intestines have muscle cells to... read more of white blood cells. White blood cells have many jobs, including helping your body's immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more fight off infection. White blood cells White Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more form in your bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside your bones.
With leukemia, you have a very high white blood cell count. However, the cancerous white blood cells don't work properly, so you're likely to get infections. Those infections may be life-threatening.
Also, the cancerous white blood cells fill up your bone marrow so it can't make normal blood cells such as:
Red blood cells Red Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more (causing anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is not having enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all of your other organs. Hemoglobin is the substance inside your red blood cells that... read more )
Normal white blood cells White Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more (increasing the risk of infection)
Platelets Platelets The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more (increasing the risk of bleeding)
There are many different types of white blood cells but only 2 main types of leukemia:
Lymphocytic leukemia: cancer of lymphocytes, which are one type of white blood cell
Myelogenous leukemia: cancer of all the other types of white blood cells
Lymphocytic and myelogenous leukemia can be acute or chronic:
Acute: cancer of young cells that spreads quickly and can cause death in 3 to 6 months if untreated
Chronic: cancer of mature cells that spreads more slowly
What is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)?
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of white blood cell cancer that affects lymphocytes, which normally help your body fight infections. In CLL, your lymphocytes turn into cancer cells. These cancer cells take the place of healthy lymphocytes in your blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes (pea-sized organs throughout your body that help fight off infections).
CLL usually occurs in adults over 60 and is more likely to affect men than women
CLL is extremely rare in children
You may have no symptoms, or you may have general symptoms such as tiredness, no appetite, weight loss, and swollen lymph nodes Swollen Lymph Nodes Lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system, which helps fight infection and cancer. Lymph nodes are pea-sized collection points that filter out germs and cells from lymph fluid. Lymph nodes... read more
To tell if you have CLL, doctors do blood tests and test your bone marrow
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia grows very slowly and may not need treatment for many years
People with CLL often live 10 to 20 years or more after doctors find the disease
Types of CLL include:
B-cell leukemia—this is the most common
Hairy cell leukemia
What are the symptoms of CLL?
Most people have no symptoms at first.
Later symptoms may include:
Swollen lymph nodes Swollen Lymph Nodes Lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system, which helps fight infection and cancer. Lymph nodes are pea-sized collection points that filter out germs and cells from lymph fluid. Lymph nodes... read more (pea-sized organs throughout the body that help fight off infections)
Feeling weak and tired
Not being hungry and losing weight
Shortness of breath when you exercise
A feeling of fullness in your belly area (from a swollen liver and spleen)
You may be more likely to get other cancers, such as skin or lung cancers.
How can doctors tell if I have CLL?
To tell if you have CLL, doctors will:
Do blood tests
Sometimes doctors find out that you have CLL when they do blood tests for other health problems.
How do doctors treat CLL?
You may not need any treatment for years.
When you do need treatment, it may include:
Monoclonal antibodies (medicines that help your immune system fight your cancer)
Doctors may also give you treatments for your symptoms, including:
Medicines to help you form more red blood cells
Platelet transfusions, if your platelets are low (platelets are blood cells that help your blood clot)
Antibiotics for infections