Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a usually slow-growing type of hematologic (blood) cancer, is the most common type of leukemia diagnosed in adults. It is characterized mainly by its type and subtype. Your doctor will design a personalized treatment plan based on your type, subtype and other unique characteristics, which is why you may want to consider finding a hematologist who specializes in CLL.

Your doctor may be very skilled and someone you trust, so you may wonder why it is necessary to work with a specialist. The CLL field is fast-moving. Advances in clinical trial research continue to enable doctors to better understand the disease and how it responds to treatment. In turn, they are able to offer treatments that help many people live longer and with a better quality of life. Simply put, the doctors who are on the cutting edge of treating CLL have more experience, which leads to expertise. And you deserve to work with an expert.

To find a specialist, ask your diagnosing physician, who should be very willing to provide you with a referral. Your insurance provider and local and national advocacy groups are also resources. If you are not located near a CLL specialist and traveling for treatment is not an option, you may find a CLL specialist who will consult with your doctor and offer a second opinion. This can confirm the suggested treatment plan or add other options to consider. Ideally, they will work together to ensure you have the best care possible.

Explaining CLL

Leukemia begins in the blood and bone marrow (the soft, spongy center of some bones). It occurs when the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. These white blood cells don’t fight infection like healthy white blood cells do, which makes an individual susceptible to repeated infections.

CLL develops from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that makes up lymphoid tissue. Lymphoid tissue is found in the lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, tonsils and other parts of the body. They are a part of the immune system.

CLL begins when mature lymphocytes change and multiply uncontrollably. They grow at a faster rate than normal lymphocytes grow, and they do not die when they should, causing them to build up in the blood or bone marrow. This leads to an accumulation of them in the blood, bone marrow, lymph nodes and spleen that interferes with the normal production of healthy cells, including red blood cells that carry oxygen; white blood cells that fight infection; and platelets that help blood to clot.

The buildup of abnormal lymphocytes doesn’t form a tumor, which is what people commonly think of when they hear the word “cancer.” Blood cancers are different. Except for lymphomas, they typically do not grow into tumors. Instead, CLL cancer cells circulate in the bloodstream and can spread through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body.