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What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2016
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Although many people will show no symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), those that do typically develop large lymph nodes and experience unexplained fatigue and abnormal bruising. Other signs of CLL include fever, night sweats and a loss of appetite resulting in weight loss. Some patients can also suffer from recurring infections. Treatment options for this form of cancer depend on the stage of the disease and the patient’s overall health.

One of the first symptoms of this condition experienced by patients is enlarged lymph nodes. The nodes are swollen but usually not tender or painful to the touch. Painfully enlarged lymph nodes are sometimes treated with radiation.

Some people can experience pain in the upper left area of the abdomen, which is the result of an enlarged spleen that can also obstruct the expansion of the stomach. If the stomach cannot expand normally, the patient feels full early and can lose weight. If the liver is enlarged, the pain can migrate to the upper right area of the abdomen.

Fever and chills are additional symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia associated with the body’s response to infection. The body runs hot and cold in an attempt to fight the disease. Fevers can be quite frequent, and night sweats may also become common.

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Recurring infections are common in people with CLL. This is because the cancer affects lymphocytes, a group of white blood cells that help the body fight infections. It can take years for enough abnormal cells to accumulate and cause symptoms. In addition to fighting the symptoms, the patient may also have to ward off other diseases and tax his or her immune system further.

In the later stages of CLL, a patient can begin to feel very fatigued, likely as the result of anemia. Additionally, abnormal bruising can occur because of a low platelet count.

The symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia are general and can be associated with a wide variety of conditions, so they are often initially attributed to an infection or to stress. Patients with symptoms that persist can undergo a simple blood test like a complete blood count to determine their white blood cell count.

Most patients experiencing early symptoms will not receive any treatment because studies have shown that early medical intervention does not prolong life. Since side effects can be difficult, treatment is usually reserved for advanced stages. Traditional treatment options include chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy with rituximab and ofatumumab, and bone marrow stem cell transplant. Transplant therapy is the most promising potential cure.

CLL is a type of bone marrow and blood cancer that generally progresses at a slower rate than other types of leukemia. Older adults are more likely to be affected, but any individual showing any symptoms of this illness should consult with a medical professional as soon as possible.

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