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What Is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)?

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Quick Answer

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, states Mayo Clinic. This cancer affects white blood cells in the body that fight infection and progresses more slowly than other types of leukemia. The cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is unknown, and it typically affects older adults.

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Full Answer

As of 2015, scientists do not know exactly what causes CLL, reports Mayo Clinic. Something causes a genetic mutation inside the blood-producing cells causing those cells to produce abnormal lymphocytes. Instead of dying like normal lymphocytes, the abnormal lymphocytes keep multiplying, which causes them to build up in the blood and some organs. CLL is more common in some groups of people than others. Men have a higher risk of developing the disease than women, and most people diagnosed with CLL have already passed the age of 60. Chemical exposure or a family history of blood or bone marrow cancer also increases the risk for developing CLL.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is diagnosed by counting the number of lymphocytes in a blood sample, determining which lymphocytes are present, and analyzing lymphocytes for abnormalities, explains Mayo Clinic. Additional tests, such as a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration, imaging tests and the testing of leukemia cells, may also be used in a diagnosis.

Symptoms may not show during the early stages of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, states Mayo Clinic. Symptoms that do appear include fever, weight loss, night sweats, enlarged lymph nodes, upper abdomen pain and recurring infections. A doctor should be consulted when these symptoms begin to cause concern.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia typically is not treated in its early stages to avoid any complications and side effects, according to Mayo Clinic. The patient is carefully monitored to determine when treatment is necessary. Treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia is determined by the overall health, symptoms and preferences of the patient. Treatment for the intermediate and advanced stages of chronic lymphocytic leukemia include chemotherapy, drug therapy and a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

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