About Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

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About Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many of a type of blood cell or abnormal blood cells. In chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. CLL does not have obvious symptoms. It is usually found during a routine blood test.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of CLL:

  • Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Fever and infection
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Painless swelling in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about chronic lymphocytic leukemia from the National Cancer Institute. 

Image of Blood Cell Development

drawing of blood cell development

Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the recommendations of the care team and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment: 

  • Watchful waiting
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Hematologic Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with all types of blood cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments.

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for CLL:

  • Being male
  • Being white
  • Increasing age
  • Having a family history of CLL or cancer of the lymph system
  • Having relatives who are Russian Jews or Eastern European Jews
Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about cancer screenings.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis ofChronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Doctors use these tests to diagnose CLL:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They also look for abnormal amounts of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: The health care provider removes a small sample of bone marrow to look for abnormal cells under a microscope.

Stages of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Staging is the process that shows if cancer has spread in the blood and bone marrow. These are the stages for CLL:

  • Stage 0: There are too many lymphocytes in the blood, but there are no other signs or symptoms. This is often called indolent CLL.
  • Stage I: There are too many lymphocytes in the blood and lymph nodes are larger than normal.
  • Stage II: There are too many lymphocytes in the blood, lymph nodes are larger than normal, and the liver or spleen is larger than normal.
  • Stage III: There are too many lymphocytes in the blood and the lymph nodes, liver, or spleen may be larger than normal. There are too few red blood cells.
  • Stage IV: There are too many lymphocytes in the blood and the lymph nodes, liver, or spleen may be larger than normal. There may be too few red blood cells, and there are too few platelets.

Learn more about the stages of CLL from the National Cancer Institute.