Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is a slowly progressing blood and bone marrow disease. It is the most common form of leukemia that can affect the adults. The problem does not affect children, but people in their middle age can face the risk of the problem. Never become afraid of hearing the term chronic. It simply refers that the disease progresses slowly compared to other forms of leukemia. Therefore, the issue affecting the spongy tissue inside your bones needs treatment in their advanced stages. Want to know more about it? Read ahead to know more about chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
What Is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?
It is one of the different forms of leukemia. The chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) can affect the group of white blood cells in your blood. The white blood cells known as lymphocytes help your body fight the infection. So, the problem can lead to a gradual increase in white blood cells. The lymphocytes can develop in the bone marrow. As the white blood cells aids in fighting the body, any abnormal condition can trigger severe complications. When the abnormal lymphocytes become too much, it does not become the healthy white blood cells. So, it affects the body’s ability to fight infections. Likewise, when the lymphocytes increase, it makes it impossible to room the healthy white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells in the blood.
Around 50% to 70% of the patients suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia have no visible symptoms. So, many may not become aware of the problem. The problem comes to the light only during a routine checkup or a blood test. Therefore, if you suffer from the health complication, then you notice signs only during the advanced stages of the disease.
Symptoms Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Know the signs that indicate you have an underlying problem. In many people affected by the issue, it triggers no visible symptoms. So, in the early stages, you may not detect the issue. But, some can experience symptoms like:
- Painless yet enlarged lymph nodes (in areas like neck, stomach, armpits, and groin)
- Night Sweats
- Enlarged Spleen (it triggers pain in the upper left portion of the abdomen)
- Frequent infections
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Bone pain
- Unusual bruising and bleeding
Causes Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
The doctors have no idea regarding the exact reason triggering chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Unlike other cancer forms, the CLL develops due to age or genetic factors. While the other cancer problem progresses due to chemicals or viruses. So, the mutations in the blood-producing cells result in the cancer form. The problem can result in the production of abnormal and ineffective lymphocytes.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia can trigger the development of ineffective and abnormal lymphocytes. It continues to live as well as multiple. In normal cases, the lymphocytes die after some time. But, the abnormal ones multiply and accumulate in your blood. It can also accumulate in certain organs, which triggers complications. Therefore, it crowds your healthy cells out of the blood marrow. The result is a problem with normal blood cell production. Why such problem occurs, remain inconclusive. But, the doctors, as well as researchers, are working to find the exact mechanism that triggers the CLL.
Risk Factors Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Not everyone can get affected by the disease. It is not like a common cough or cold that affects all people at least once in their lifetime. It is a complication that develops in certain people. Therefore, the common risk factors that make people vulnerable to the problem are:
Age plays an important role in determining the risk of getting the disease. Most people who suffer from the problem are seventy years or more. So, it affects older people.
The ethnicity of a person can play a role in determining the risk associated with CLL. It is observed that people of the white race get affected by the problem more compared to other races.
Your genes a decisive role in suffering from the problem. So, people with a family history of bone marrow and blood cancers have a higher chance of developing the health issue.
Exposure To Chemicals
Exposure to certain chemicals can put you at risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Certain herbicides and insecticides can affect the bone marrow and result in the condition. The most common example of the problem is Agent Orange. It is the toxic chemical used in Vietnam War. So, Vietnam War veterans suffered from CLL in the later part of their life. Such chemicals increase your risk of developing the condition.
Complications Due To Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
So, why do you need to maintain caution with CLL? It is due to the fact that the problem can trigger several complications in your body. Therefore, it can result in several health problems like:
People suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia can develop infections frequently. In the majority of the cases, patients with CLL suffer from regular upper and lower respiratory tract infections. Unfortunately, some can develop into more serious forms of infection. It can affect the body adversely and trigger severe distress.
Develop Aggressive Cancer
In a minority of instances, patients who suffer from CLL can develop a serious form of cancer. The problem referred to as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma can result in fatal complications. Doctors also call the problem as Richter’s syndrome. Therefore, CLL has the possibility to switch to the aggressive form of cancer. You need to give ample importance to the problem.
Risk Of Other Cancers
People suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia have increased the risk of developing other cancer forms. Skin cancer like melanoma or the cancerous presence in the digestive tract or the lung can affect patients already suffering from CLL. Therefore, you must never ignore the problem.
Immune System Complications
Some people suffering the CCL have a high risk of developing immune system problems. So, the immune system problem can develop into something serious. It can cause the disease-fighting cells in your immune system to attack the normal blood cells or platelets. The mistaken attack can trigger severe complications in your body.
Diagnosis Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
When you suspect something is wrong, you need to make a doctor’s appointment. It will help you understand the actual health problem troubling you. Your doctor can use different diagnostic techniques to ensure the proper detection of the problem. Therefore, the following method can prove effective:
The doctor sends your blood for analysis in a lab. The different blood tests designed to detect the problem conclusively will help your doctor make a proper diagnosis. So, the following tests and procedure can provide conclusive results.
CBC (Complete Blood Count)
The blood test counts the total number of cells in the blood sample. So, it provides the right count of the number of lymphocytes in the blood sample. When the test reveals a high number of B cells (a type of lymphocyte), it indicates the patients suffer from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Detect The Lymphocyte Type
Your doctor can suggest a test known as flow cytometry (Immunophenotyping). The blood sample can help your doctor detect the exact type of lymphocytes involved. So, the test can determine if the increased number of lymphocyte means you have CLL. It exactly helps the doctor determine the cause of the elevated levels of lymphocytes. It can occur due to a different blood disorder or due to your body’s reaction to some other complication like an infection. The flow cytometry test also helps detect the characteristics of the leukemia cells after careful analysis. So, it helps predicts the aggressiveness of the cells.
The blood test known as FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization) can analyze the lymphocytes to determine the genetic abnormalities. It examines the chromosomes inside your abnormal lymphocytes. So, it can detect the abnormalities present precisely. Your doctor can use the valuable information to develop an ideal treatment plan and predict your prognosis.
In some cases, your doctor can order other tests to come to a proper conclusion. So, the following tests and procedure can aid in proper diagnosis:
- Test and assess the leukemia cells. It helps your doctor look for characteristics that can affect the prognosis.
- The bone marrow examination can provide the pathologic analysis of the bone marrow samples. It is obtained by the twin procedures of bone marrow biopsy and bone marrow aspiration. The two procedures conducted simultaneously can detect the issues accurately.
- Imaging tests like PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and CT (Computerized Tomography) can provide comprehensive visuals. It can also help during the treatment. The new images during the treatment can reveal the success of the treatment plan.
Staging Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
The next step after the doctor confirms the diagnosis, the extent of the chronic lymphocytic leukemia gets detected. So, your doctor determines the stage of the problem. It helps assign the stage. The different stages associated with the problem are:
It is associated with the early stage of the disease. It does not require immediate treatment.
The stage needs treatment immediately. It will help alleviate the problem with ease.
It indicates CLL has progressed to a severe stage. So, you need treatment as soon as possible to avoid other complications.
Therefore, the stages indicate the progress of the CLL and help develop a treatment plan to alleviate the problem.
Treatment Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
The treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia depends on several factors. So, the doctor decides a treatment plan based on the following:
- The stage of the cancer
- Signs and symptoms associated with the CLL
- The overall health of the affected person
- The preferences of the patient
Early Stage Treatment Option
You require no treatment in its early stages. So, most people in their initial stages of the chronic lymphocytic leukemia receive no treatment from the doctor. Researches have suggested that the treatment provided in the early stages does not extend the lives. So, skipping any treatment will no harm you in any manner. The treatment options can have side-effects in your body. So, your doctor avoids subjecting you to the complications of the treatment. You receive the treatment only when leukemia progresses. Therefore, the doctor waits for your signs to progress before taking any step. It is known as watchful waiting.
The doctor will initially plan a check-up schedule. So, you need to meet with your doctor to evaluate the symptoms. In most cases, you need a blood test every few months to monitor the progress of CLL. Early-stage CLL patients get help through clinical trials. Only affected people with high risk of progression into something severe can get benefits from the treatments. Therefore, talk to your doctor about the different options available for your specific condition.
Treatment Options For Other Stages Of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
The doctor comes to a conclusion about the specific stage of the CCL. It is done after checking the results from various tests. The common tests include the assessment of your overall health, lab analysis of the cancer cells, and make a proper recommendation. So, once the doctor determines the CLL has progressed to other stages, you get different options to treat it. The treatment options include the following:
The chemotherapy can kill the cancer cells. So, your doctor provides the drug treatment to stop cancer from progressing further. It can destroy cancer affecting the healthy cells in your body. So, it can stop the further progress of CLL. Your doctor can administer the chemotherapy through your vein or you can take pills. Depending on the severity of the problem, your doctor can administer a single drug or a combination of chemotherapy drugs.
Targeted Drug Therapy
As the name suggests, the drug specifically targets the specific genes or proteins. So, it effectively stops the cancer cells from progressing. The targeted drug therapy can help cure the chronic lymphocytic leukemia by taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of the cancer cells. Therefore, your cancer cells get tested to come to a definitive conclusion of which drugs can prove effective.
The treatment option uses the body’s immune’s system to fight the cancerous cells in the body. So, it boosts the natural defenses of your body to fight cancer. The treatment focusses on using the substances produced by the body or the ones developed in the lab. Treating it with the substances can improve the immune system. So, it restores the functions of the immune system to identify and fight cancer cells.
Bone Marrow Transplant
The bone marrow transplant also referred to as the stem cell transplant. So, the medication uses strong drugs that kill the cancerous stem cells in the bone marrow. The chemotherapy drugs can kill the cells produced by the diseased lymphocytes. After that, the healthy adult blood stem from a healthy donor gets infused into the patient’s blood. So, when they travel to the bone marrow, it makes healthy blood cells.
Now, your doctor rarely uses the bone marrow transplant to overcome the problem. It is due to the development of new and effective drug combination. So, effective drugs can treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia in a better manner. But, in some specific cases, the treatment option can prove more effective.
The above-mentioned treatment option can help you overcome the issue. It is used alone or in combination with each other for better results.
Supportive Care For Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
You need to meet your doctor regularly. So, it helps the doctor monitor any complications that can occur in your body. You also need supportive care measures to prevent any problems. It also helps alleviate any signs or symptoms associated with the problem. Therefore, you need the supportive care that includes the following:
The chronic lymphocytic leukemia can trigger other cancer symptoms. So, you are at risk of getting affected by different forms of cancer. Your doctor can evaluate the risk you may face. Therefore, you need regular screening to detect any other forms of cancer. In most cases, the doctor looks for sin cancer signs. You need to undergo skin examination once a year to detect the signs of cancer.
You need to get vaccinations to prevent infections. Some infections like influenza and pneumonia can trigger complications like CLL. Therefore, getting the specific vaccination can prevent the issue from affecting your life.
Monitor Other Health Issues
Your doctor may recommend monitoring your health frequently. So, the regular checkups can discover any health issues. It is required when you undergo the treatment for lymphocytic leukemia. You must continue the monitoring even after getting the treatment.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is a problem that can never alleviate completely. But, you can live with the disease for a long time. You need treatment on and off to overcome the distress. So, you need to learn to live with the problem. Though it is difficult as well as stressful, you need to learn to cope with it. With proper care and support, you can overcome CLL and its distress from life.