Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
The most common form of leukemia in adults, CLL is a malignant disease in which there are too many infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes. In CLL, the developing lymphocytes do not mature correctly and too many are made. The lymphocytes may look normal, but they cannot deal with infections as well as they should. These immature lymphocytes are then found in the blood and the bone marrow. They also collect in the lymph nodes and make them swell. Lymphocytes may crowd out other blood cells in the blood and bone marrow. Anemia may develop if the bone marrow cannot make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen. If the bone marrow cannot make enough platelets to make the blood clot normally, bleeding or bruising may occur easily. CLL usually occurs in people 60 years of age or older and progresses slowly. In the first stages of CLL there are often no symptoms. As time goes on, more and more lymphocytes are made and symptoms begin to appear. A doctor should be seen if the lymph nodes swell, the spleen or liver becomes larger than normal, a feeling of fatigue persists, or bleeding occurs easily. If there are symptoms, a doctor will do a physical examination and may order blood tests to count the number of each of the different kinds of blood cells and may also do a bone marrow biopsy. (During this test, a needle is inserted into a bone and a small amount of bone marrow is taken out and looked at under the microscope to tell what kind of leukemia it is and plan the best treatment.) There are various kinds of treatment for CLL. They include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, leukapheresis and bone marrow transplantation. There is also treatment for the complications of CLL such as infection. If the spleen is swollen, a doctor may take out the spleen in an operation called a splenectomy. This is only done in rare cases. Because infection often occurs in patients with CLL, a special substance called immunoglobulin, which contains antibodies, may be given to prevent infections. Sometimes a special machine is used to filter the blood to take out extra lymphocytes. This is called leukapheresis. The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on the stage of the disease and the patient's age and general health.

Medical dictionary. 2011.

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