Leukemia is a type of cancer of the bone marrow and blood. It was first discovered in the 19th century by European physicians, who called it Weisses blut or white blood. Eventually, the disease was called leukemia, derived from the Greek words leukos meaning white and haima meaning blood.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or chronic lymphoid leukemia (CLL), is one of several different types of leukemia. It is characterized by a gradual increase in the number of white blood cells, or lymphocytes, in the blood and the bone marrow. White blood cells are important because they fight bacteria and protect the body from possible infections.
The incidence of chronic lymphocytic leukemia increases with age, where 90% of cases occur in people older than 50. By 70 years of age, 15 out of 100,000 people may have it. Men are two to three times more likely than women to develop the disease.
Researchers believe that genetics plays a role in its development because it is rare in Asian countries such as Japan and China, and it remains uncommon in Japanese people who have moved to North America. This condition is more common in Caucasians, followed by people of African descent, Hispanics, and First Nations.
The cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is unknown. Unlike other forms of leukemia, there doesn't appear to be a relationship to radiation, carcinogenic chemicals (such as benzene), or viruses.
As mentioned above, family history and age are risk factors for developing this disease.
The symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia usually develop gradually.
Early in the disease, chronic lymphocytic leukemia generally has little effect on a person's well-being. It may only be discovered after an abnormal blood count shows up during the course of a routine medical exam or while a person is being treated for an unrelated condition.
Usually, an elevated white blood cell count will be the clue that leads the doctor to consider a diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Key early symptoms include:
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia affects people in different ways. Usually, its progression is slow, and some people survive for many years even without treatment. In others, it may progress more rapidly and earlier treatment may be required.
Some people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may develop complications such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia (low red blood cells due to body attacking its own red blood cells), immune thrombocytopenia (low platelets due to body destroying its own platelets), and infections. People who have chronic lymphocytic leukemia also seem to be more likely to develop other cancers. This is probably due to changes in their immune system.