About the disease
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a cancer that develops in the bone marrow, which is responsible for producing red and white blood cells and platelets. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia develop in the cells that later become lymphocytes. These cells are a subtype of white blood cells and they are part of the immune system. They are also known as natural killer cells, as they are responsible for fighting and preventing the development of different infections.
Lymphocytes accumulate in the lymphs, which is where their name comes from. Although chronic lymphocytic leukemia and lymphoma have similar symptoms and progress in a similar way, the biggest difference between them is that the first starts initially in the bone marrow while the second starts in the lymph nodes and the tissue located close to them. Nonetheless, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and lymphoma can spread to other organs and affect the immune system greatly, which is why a timely diagnosis and treatment are vital.
Overall, chronic lymphocytic leukemia develops more slowly than the acute type and it also has less adverse factors. It can take months or even years for chronic lymphocytic leukemia to manifest itself, but this type of lymphocytic leukemia can at any time become acute and at this point it may be more difficult to treat.
Another type of leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, starts in the myeloids cells. Although the exact cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is not known, genetic mutations and exposure to radiation are believed to play a vital role. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is more common in adults.
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Swelling of the lymph nodes
- Pain in the bones
- Weight loss
- Frequent colds and infections, due to weakened immune system
- Loss of appetite
- During a general examination, the doctor will examine the lymph nodes to check whether they are enlarged. The patient will be asked if they have recently lost a lot of weight or have experienced unexplained weakness.
- A blood test is primarily used to count the amount of lymphocytes in the blood, which is usually very high in people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
- A bone marrow biopsy can be performed, allowing doctors to examine a sample of the patient’s bone marrow under the microscope. This can determine whether or not the patient has chronic lymphocytic leukemia and, if so, what stage the cancer is at.
- Chemotherapy and immunotherapy kill and scatter the cancerous cells, to stop them progressing. The second part of this treatment option, immunotherapy, protects the patient against infections until their immune system is normal again.
- A stem cell transplant is a complex surgical procedure, whereby the patient receives new stem cells that renew the normal production of white and red blood cells and platelets in the blood. These cells may either be taken from the patient before chemotherapy or they may be taken from a donor. Donors need to have similar lymphocytes to the patient. Relatives are most likely to be the best fit.