What is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the cancer that affects mainly a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. In general terms, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the cancer of blood and bone marrow, the spongy tissue within human bones responsible for producing blood cells. It is important to know the causes, symptoms and treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is one of many different kinds of leukemia and is basically characterized by a steady increase in the number of white blood cells called lymphocytes in blood and bone marrow. The white blood cells play a crucial role in combating bacteria and safeguarding the body from all possible infections. There are several causes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The condition of chronic lymphocytic leukemia actually increases with growing age, of which 90% of cases occur in patients older than 50 years. In many cases, treatments are not necessary. But if patients seek medical treatment at right time, then it may delay the disease and ease the symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

What is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?

Causes of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

In most of the cases, it is difficult to detect the causes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. According to medical professionals, the cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a genetic change in the DNA of blood producing cells. Owing to this mutation, the blood cells start producing abnormal amount of ineffective lymphocytes.


These abnormal lymphocytes keeps on maturing and multiplying, when the natural lymphocytes die. The ineffective lymphocytes also accumulate inside the blood and in certain organs where they start creating complications. These ineffective lymphocytes are the main cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as they also destroy healthy cells of the bone marrow and may impede natural blood cell production in body. Doctors and researchers from across the world are still working on it to know and determine the exact causes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Studies have concluded certain risk factors of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which include


  • Having a sibling, child or parent with chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Being older or middle-aged
  • Having relatives and nephews of Eastern European origin
  • People who were exposed to Agent Orange, which is a herbicide that was used in Vietnam War.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

The signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia usually develop gradually, over a period. In the early stage of this cancerous disease, the patients may never experience any symptoms. The condition can only be diagnosed when any abnormality in blood count is observed through routine medical tests and examination or when the patient is being treated for any unrelated disease. Elevated white blood count is the early symptom of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which may lead to perform further tests to confirm the condition.

However, some may experience some discomfort, and some of the early symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia include:

  • Fatigue, primarily due to anemia
  • Painless swellings in the neck, groin areas and armpits
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Frequent infectious condition
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Abnormal bruising and bleeding
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Bone pain
  • Pressure under left ribs due to the enlargement of spleen

Some patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may also develop other health complications like autoimmune hemolytic anemia, immune thrombocytopenia and infections. Such patients are also likely to develop cancers compared to others because due to the changes occurred in their immune system.

How is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treated?

The treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia mainly depends on different factors, including the stage of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and the overall health condition. Treatment is also based on the signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and their own preferences. In some cases, treatment may not be required, especially in the early stage of the condition.

Patients with early stage of chronic lymphocytic leukemia usually don't receive any medical treatment, but clinical trials are regularly evaluated to determine if early treatment would be helpful for the patients. According to studies, patients seeking early treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia can recover faster and delay the condition and ease the symptoms. Rather than putting your health at risk of possible side effects of treatments, you doctor evaluate the condition regularly and reserve the treatment for the time when the condition progress.

When the doctor observes that the chronic lymphocytic leukemia is progressing to advanced or intermediate stage, they usually start the treatment options according to the progressing stage.

Some of the treatment options for chronic lymphocytic leukemia in the intermediate and advanced stages include

Treating Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia With Chemotherapy

It is a drug treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia that kills the cancerous cells in body. This treatment is administered through veins and can also be taken in oral form. Based on the stage and condition, the doctor may prescribe single chemotherapy treatment or you may receive combination of drugs.

Targeted Drug Treatment For Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

The targeted drugs are prescribed to take advantage of certain vulnerabilities of the cancerous cells. Some of the targeted drugs prescribed to the patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia include Rituximab, Obinutuzumab, Ofatumumab, Ibrutinib, Idelalisib, Lenalidomide, and Alemtuzumab.

Some Of The Other Targeted Therapies That Are Being Studied In Clinical Trials Include:

Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant

This option makes use of strong chemotherapy drugs that kill the stem cells in the bone marrow that are responsible for producing abnormal and ineffective lymphocytes. Again healthy and adult bone marrow from donor is infused into the patient's blood and it travels to the bone marrow and starts producing healthy blood cells. Mini bone marrow stem cell transplant is similar to that of standard stem cell transplant, but it makes use of minimal doses of chemotherapy drugs. The bone marrow stem cell transplant is the last treatment option for chronic lymphocytic leukemia when all other options have failed.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: November 27, 2017

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer


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