Leukemia (CLL)

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Physical Symptoms Are Usually Seen in Advanced Stages of CLL

Dr. Matthew Davids Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a cancer of a white blood cell group called a B lymphocytes. It starts in the bone marrow tissue where these B cells are formed. While doctors aren’t exactly sure what starts the chain reaction that leads to CLL, there’s usually some sort of genetic mutation in the bone marrow cells that causes them to grow and divide without restraint, producing abnormal B lymphocytes. Eventually, these lymphocytes spill into the bloodstream and begin to outnumber the healthy white blood cells.

Doctors first suspect CLL when a routine blood test shows something strange like an elevated lymphocyte count. Many people don’t have any obvious physical symptoms. That’s because CLL is a slow growing, chronic cancer. Physical symptoms often occur at much later stages of the disease. People who do start to show some of these symptoms may develop swollen lymph glands or an enlarged spleen. People with CLL may also feel systemic symptoms like fatigue, unintended weight loss, drenching night sweats or frequent infections. But these are rare at the time of diagnosis because systemic symptoms are usually associated with advanced stages of CLL.

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Dr. Matthew Davids is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Associate Director of the Dana-Farber CLL Center. Read More

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