Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment Options & More

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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) begins in mature white blood cells, causing the bone marrow to make too many of them. CLL may develop slowly and cause little or no trouble. It may also progress to acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a more aggressive form of leukemia. 

CLL can also be associated with the presence of chronic lymphocytic lymphoma. This is a small cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The abnormal cells in both cases may come from the same parent cell source. As a result, one of the signs of CLL may be swelling in the lymph nodes.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Causes

The exact cause of CLL is unknown. Changes in chromosomes that occur during life have been associated with CLL, as well as exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals such as benzene and Agent Orange.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chance of developing CLL:

  • Age: Middle age or older
  • Sex: Male
  • Race: White
  • A family history of CLL or cancer of the lymphatic system
  • Having relatives who are Russian Jews or Eastern European Jews
  • Exposure to Agent Orange


Symptoms include:

  • Painless swelling in the neck, underarms, stomach or groin
  • Tiredness
  • Paleness (a sign of anemia)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Reduced exercise tolerance
  • Bone pain
  • Enlargement of liver and spleen


The doctor may check for swelling of the liver, spleen or lymph nodes. 

You may need to have tests of your bodily fluids, including blood tests, bone marrow biopsies and cytogenetic analysis.

Your doctor may take imaging scans, like CT scans or ultrasound, to see your bodily structures. 


Treatment options include:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Monoclonal antibody therapy
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant 

Treatment Side Effects  

Both leukemia and therapy can result in:

  • Anemia
  • Reduced blood clotting 
  • Higher infection rates


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.