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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia: All You Need To Know

Posted On: January 27, 2020

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia: All You Need To Know

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is a type of slow-growing leukaemia that normally affects developing B-lymphocytes. CLL has emerged as the most common type of leukaemia. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia was first described by Brouet et al. This is the type of cancer that usually starts in the cells that become white blood cells.

Leukaemia starts in the bone marrow but after some time go into the blood. Do you know that B lymphocytes are specialized white blood cells? Also known as B-cells, they produce immunoglobulins under normal conditions. Immunoglobulins (antibodies) are very essential in protecting the body against infections.

In most cases, lymphocytes undergo a malignant change to become leukemic cells. It is also relevant to emphasize that chronic lymphocytic leukemia will have little or even no impact for many years. In case there is an observable impact, it will only happen in people lifestyle and general health.

It is good to know that about 30% of people who are diagnosed with CLL do not need any type of treatment for their disease. Interestingly, they can survive for a couple of years despite their diagnosis. That is not the case for other people. Although such situations are quite rare, leukemic cells multiply in an uncontrolled way.

Leukemic cells accumulate in the following parts of the body:

  • Bone marrow
  • Bloodstream
  • Lymph nodes
  • Spleen
  • Liver

Being abnormal, these cells are unable to function properly. Over time, an excessive number of these cells will crowd the bone marrow. This means that they will interfere with normal blood cell production.

Types of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia can either be classified as:

  • Indolent chronic lymphocytic leukemia
    It is slow-growing hence it can remain stable without treatment for very many years. There are a large number of lymphocytes in your blood if you have indolent CLL. The only thing that will not change in such cases is the blood cells. Most medical experts will recommend watchful waiting.

At times, you will come to discover your illness after routine tests. However, symptoms of the disease will be unnoticeable if you have slow-growing chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  • Aggressive chronic lymphocytic leukemia
    Being a fast-growing chronic lymphocytic leukemia, it requires immediate treatment. What does it mean when you have aggressive CLL? There are numerous lymphocytes and abnormal cells. Therefore, there will be little or even no room for other blood cells.

You will observe symptoms of the disease if you have aggressive chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Serious complications will develop if this CLL is left untreated. The most common complications include;

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bleeding
  • Anaemia
  • Frequent infections

Before the diagnosis of CLL, you will need a blood transfusion.

Causes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

The exact cause of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is not known. But medical scientists have been learning great deals about the major differences between normal lymphocytes and CLL cells. Usually, normal cells grow and function based on the information in each cell’s chromosomes. You might be aware of what chromosomes are. They are the long molecules of DNA.

It has been proven that indeed cancer is caused by DNA mutations. These mutations later turn off the suppressor genes. It is good to know that each human cells have at least 23 pairs of chromosomes. In the case of CLL, a change can be found in at least two of these chromosomes. The change involves loss of part of a chromosome. It is the most common deletion.

Multiple scientists think that chronic lymphocytic leukemia begins when the B lymphocytes divide without restraint. The reason why this happens is yet to be known.

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Risk factors

A risk factor is something that will make you more likely to develop a certain type of disease. There are many risk factors that increase the risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. has compiled the most common. Without further ado, let’s take a look.

Family history

There are several types of inherited genetic changes in some people who develop chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Do you know that the possibility of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is very high if you have several siblings? As for now, we don’t know any specific gene changes that is associated with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

CLL is very popular in the United States, Australia and Europe. CLL cases are very rare in China and other Southeast Asian countries. In addition, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is not common with black people. Scientists across Europe have intensified research to discover the main reasons for these differences.

Electromagnetic fields

For very many years, electromagnetic fields have been linked as a possible factor behind leukaemia. You can agree with me that we are exposed to electromagnetic radiations daily. The chances of being diagnosed with CLL will be quite low if you are often exposed to normal background levels.

Low immunity

Published evidence has clearly shown that people with low immunity are more likely to develop leukaemia. Have you ever been treated with medicines to lower your immunity after an organ transplant? You have a doubled risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia if you don’t seek medical attention.

Chemical exposure and intensive radiation

It is arguably one of the most common risk factors that have been associated with other types of leukaemia for years. Generally, it has not been linked to CLL. Do you often use hair dyes? This is the right time to avoid these chemicals like a plaque. There will be greater risks of developing CLL if you continue using dyes.

In one of the studies, women who had used black hair dyes had an increased risk of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

There will be few or even no chronic lymphocytic leukaemia symptoms when it is being diagnosed. The notorious disease is often found when doctors order blood tests. After a routine checkup, a high number of lymphocytes are discovered. Even when people with CLL have symptoms, they can be symptoms of other things. These symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes

You might be wondering the reason why many signs and symptoms of advanced CLL occur. The main reason behind this is that leukaemia cells replace bone marrow’s blood-making cells. As a result, many people who suffer from this disease don’t have enough red blood cells and platelets.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia stages

What does cancer stage entail? It is how far cancer has spread in your body. How will healthcare providers know the size and the exact location of cancer? Exams and regular tests have proved to be the most efficient methods used to determine the extent of cancer.

Tumour size and spread are not considered as parts of staging. Blood, bone marrow and lymph node size are used to stage chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. The stage of a cancer is one of the most relevant things that are considered when treating cancer. So, what are the stages of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia? Medical practitioners use different systems to stage this disease. RAI System is the most used system. This system features values between 0 and IV. The higher the number, the more advanced the disease and the lower the chances of surviving.

  • STAGE O. In this stage, the blood has multiple white blood cells. Other blood cells are close to normal. It is very hard to diagnose this disease at this stage. Besides being slow-growing, people in this stage are at low risk. This means that you will live longer.
  • STAGE I. Similar to the first stage, there are many lymphocytes in this stage. If you are keen enough, then you can notice a great change in lymph nodes. This stage is a medium risk.
  • STAGE II. Unlike the first and the second stage, the spleen becomes large day by day. The condition is popularly known as splenomegaly. Although it’s rare, the liver may swell after a long busy day. Red blood counts are close to normal.
  • STAGE III. The blood has uncountable lymphocytes. In addition, there are a few red blood cells. This means that the patient has anaemia. Spleen and lymph nodes begin to swell. The stage is high risk.
  • STAGE IV. The blood not only have few lymphocytes, but also few platelets.

Treatments of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment options vary depending on the stage. Most chronic lymphocytic leukaemia experts will use the following methods.

  • Chemotherapy. It is the principal treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Normally, several medications will be done to kill the cancer cells. Medications can either be done orally or intravenously.
  • Radiation. High-frequency waves are used to kills cancer cells. Radiation is well known to shrink lymph nodes.
  • Blood transfusions. This will be done only when the blood cells counts are low. The intravenous method may be used to increase the blood cells.
  • Bone marrow transplant. It is the perfect option for people who have high-risk CLL. What does it involve? It is all about removing stem cells from the bone marrow of a donor. It is advisable to have the blood donated by a family member. A new immune system will be established immediately after blood cells transplant.

The treatments do not come without complications. Chemotherapy will weaken your immune system. You will be more vulnerable to infections after several chemotherapies.


You may lower the risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia by doing the following.

Limit your contact with pesticides

Long term contact with pesticides increases the risk of developing CLL. With that in mind, you should wear protective clothing to reduce these risks.

Healthy body weight

Overweight and obesity may increase the chances of getting CLL. Eating well and regular exercise will help you maintain healthy body weight.

Avoid breathing in benzene

Do you often come into contact with benzene? Previous studies have shown that indeed benzene is one of the causes of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Avoid your contact with this chemical.

Final thoughts

Prevention is always better than cure. Although new combinations of chemotherapy and immunotherapy have proven to cure chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, they will cause more harm to your body than good. Increase intake of wholegrain varieties such as bread and cereals and you will always be on top with your health.

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