Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prediction

It is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells and tissues that make up the blood.

There are many types of leukemia, each affecting different kinds of blood cells. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia affects their lymphocytes.

Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia affects B lymphocytes, which are also called B-cells. Normal B cells circulate in your blood and help your body fight infections.

Cancer B cells do not fight infections as normal B cells do. As the number of cancerous B cells increases gradually, they displace normal lymphocytes and cause bone marrow failure.


Experts do not know what causes chronic lymphocytic leukemia.


Some people with this type of leukemia may not have any symptoms, and their cancer can only be discovered during a routine blood test. If you have symptoms, they usually include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Frequent infections or diseases.
  • Unexplained or involuntary weight loss.
  • Night sweats.

Your doctor may also find that your spleen, liver, or lymph nodes are enlarged during a physical examination.


These may be signs that your cancer has spread to these organs. This often happens in advanced cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. If this happens, you may feel painful bumps on your neck or a feeling of fullness or swelling in your abdomen.

Risk factor’s

This disease is rarely diagnosed in people younger than 40 years. It is usually found in people older than 70 years. It affects more men than women. It is more common in Jewish people of Russian or Eastern European descent.


If your doctor suspects that you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, you can use several tests to confirm your diagnosis. For example, they will probably order one or more of the following tests:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) with white blood cell differential:  Your doctor can use this blood test to measure the number of cells in your blood, including white blood cells. If you have CLL, you will have more lymphocytes than average.
  • Immunoglobulin test:  Your doctor can use this blood test to determine if you have enough antibodies to fight infections.
  • Bone marrow biopsy:  In this procedure, your doctor will insert a needle with a unique tube into your hip or sternum to get a sample of your bone marrow for testing.
  • CT Scan: Your doctor may use the images created by this test to look for swollen lymph nodes in your chest or abdomen.

If you are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, your doctor will request more tests to assess the extent of the disease. This helps your doctor classify the stage of your cancer, which will guide your treatment plan.

Your doctor will probably ask you for blood tests to get your red blood cell count and specific blood lymphocyte count to stage your chronic lymphocytic leukemia. They will also likely check if your lymph nodes, spleen, or liver are enlarged.

Under the “Rai” classification system, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is staged from 0 to 4. The Rai 1 is the least severe, while the stage Rai 4 is the most serious.

For treatment purposes, the stages are also grouped into risk levels. Rai stage 0 is low risk, Rai stages 1 and 2 are intermediate risk, and Rai stages 3 and 4 are high risk, explains the American Cancer Society.


If you have low-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia, your doctor will probably advise you to wait and be alert for new symptoms. Your illness may not get worse or require treatment for years. Some people never need treatment.

In some cases of low risk, your doctor may recommend treatment. For example, they can recommend it if you have:

  • Persistent and recurrent infections.
  • Soft blood cell counts.
  • Fatigue or night sweats.
  • Painful lymph nodes

If you have intermediate or high-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia, your doctor will probably advise you to proceed with the treatment immediately.

To treat this type of leukemia, your doctor may recommend:


This procedure, which is the primary treatment for CLL, involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. Depending on the prescribed medications, you can take them intravenously or orally.


In this procedure, high-energy particles or waves kill the cancer cells. If you have painful swollen lymph nodes, radiation therapy can help reduce them and relieve your pain.

Blood transfusions

If the blood cell count is low, you may need to receive blood transfusions through an intravenous (IV) line to increase them.

Bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant

If you have high-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia, this treatment may be an option. It involves taking stem cells from the bone marrow or blood of a donor, usually a family member, and transplanting them into your body to help establish a new immune system.

Is there any possible complication of the treatment?

Chemotherapy weakens your immune system and leaves you more vulnerable to infections. It can also develop abnormal levels of antibodies and low blood cell counts during chemotherapy.

Other common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Hair loss.
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting.

In some cases, chemotherapy may contribute to the development of other cancers.

Radiation, blood transfusions, and bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplants can also have side effects. Talk with your doctor about the expected side effects of your treatment. They can tell you what symptoms and side effects require medical attention.


Survival rates for chronic lymphocytic leukemia vary widely. Your age, gender, chromosomal abnormalities, and characteristics of cancer cells can affect your prognosis. The disease is rarely cured, but most people live with it for many years, reports the American Cancer Society.

Ask your doctor about your specific case. They can help you understand how advanced your cancer has progressed. They can also analyze their treatment options and their long-term perspective.