Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia

What is chronic lymphocytic leukaemia?

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is a malignancy (cancer) of white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Patients with CLL often have no symptoms and would be unaware of their condition without blood testing. If the disease is detected in the early stages, no symptoms or problems would generally be anticipated for at least several years. Generally after a diagnosis of CLL, life goes on as before with no limitations to work, sport and exercise or travel.

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia can lead to the enlargement of lymph nodes producing lumps in the neck, under the arms or in the groin regions, or the enlargement of the spleen producing a lump or discomfort under the ribs on the left side of the body.  In some cases there is anaemia (which can cause tiredness, fatigue and breathlessness with exertion), a tendency to easy  bruising and bleeding, and perhaps low immunity leading to more frequent infections. Patients in the more advanced stages of the disease, when treatment is generally required, may have severe lethargy, loss of weight, drenching sweats at night and fevers. If these occur, consideration will be given to other causes; but if none are found then the CLL can be treated to alleviate these symptoms.  

The condition is not contagious and cannot be transmitted by you to anyone else and there is no reason to expect that your children will be affected.

The majority of patients have a normal life expectancy despite having chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and ultimately die of other natural causes. In few cases, the disease behaves more aggressively than the average, and in these cases life may be shortened by the condition even with treatment.

How is chronic lymphocytic leukaemia diagnosed ?

The diagnosis can be confirmed by showing that the number of lymphocytes in the blood stream is higher then normal and that many of the lymphocytes in the blood are identical to each other - they are clones of each other - rather than the usual situation where blood lymphocytes are all different from each other. Blood tests and clinical examination are often sufficient to confirm the diagnosis and to determine how advanced the disease is. Occasionally, bone marrow biopsies or CT scans (X-rays) are undertaken to provide additional information.


Although the condition is not curable, it can be readily treated if problems or symptoms occur. When treatment is required in order to relieve symptoms, this can be in the form of chemotherapy tablets (for older patients) or intravenous chemotherapy and immune therapy for younger patients. Generally the treatment is administered on an outpatient basis.

Additional Information

Additional information suitable for patients with CLL and their families can be found at the following websites:

Information about CLL from the Leukaemia Foundation

Information about CLL from "UpToDate"

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