Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

What is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)?

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is one of the four main types of leukemia, or blood cancer that forms in the bone marrow. CLL affects a particular type of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which fight infection in our bodies. Lymphocytes can be found in the bone marrow as well as in the tonsils and adenoids, the respiratory and digestive systems, the lymph nodes, spleen and thymus gland. With chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the lymphocytes multiply abnormally and squeeze out the healthy, normal cells.

As with other types of cancer, the disease can move quickly or slowly. Most often, however, the abnormal cells build up slowly over time and may cause no symptoms at all for the first few years.

Who is at risk for CLL?

There are no known causes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia though certain factors may put you more at risk, including:

  • Gender (older white males)
  • Ethnicity (Eastern European or Russian Jews)
  • Family history (parent, child or sibling with CLL)

A connection has also been made between CLL and exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict.

Symptoms of CLL

  • Feeling of fullness under the ribs
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lymph node pain (in the underarm, neck, stomach or groin)
  • Night sweats
  • Recurring infections
  • Unexplained weight loss

CLL is often found incidentally when blood work is done for something else.

Diagnosis and testing for CLL

Only a diagnostic test can determine if you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia. If you do have the disease, your doctor will explore your treatment options with you, which may include some combination of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and in some cases, surgery and stem cell transplant.

CLL treatment options

Main Line Health is here to provide you with personalized care and advanced therapies to treat and support you in all stages of CLL.


Cancer Care

From diagnosis and throughout treatment, Main Line Health cancer specialists (oncologists) provide compassionate care for you and your loved ones through all stages of cancer treatment.

Hematology and Blood Disorders

Whether you are fighting cancer or managing a blood disorder, the hematologists and oncologists at Main Line Health offer the comprehensive care you need.