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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)

About Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)

In this section, you or a loved one can find out more about medical treatments, research studies and practical information about CLL. Read on to find answers to some of your questions as well as links to other information. Being informed is an important first step towards becoming an active decision-maker in your care plan.

What Is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)?

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that starts from white blood cells (called lymphocytes) in the bone marrow and then spreads into the blood. CLL mainly affects older adults.

What Causes Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)?

Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and can spread to other areas of the body. Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. In CLL, the leukaemia cells often build up slowly over time. Many people do not have any symptoms for a few years. In time, the cells can spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.

What Are the Effects of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)?

Chronic leukaemias, like CLL, can take a long time before they cause problems and most people can live for many years.

Many of the signs and symptoms of advanced CLL occur because the leukaemia cells replace the normal blood-making cells in the bone marrow. As a result, people do not make enough red blood cells, properly functioning white blood cells and blood platelets.

Which Body Parts Are Affected?

Many people with CLL do not have any symptoms. The leukaemia is usually found when their doctor orders blood tests for an unrelated health problem or during a routine check-up and they are found to have a high number of white blood cells.

Symptoms are often vague and can include the following:

  • Weakness
  • Feeling tired
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Pain or a sense of fullness in the belly, caused by an enlarged spleen and/or liver 

Are There Other Complications?

Infections: People with CLL have a higher risk of infections. This is mainly because their immune system is not working as well as it should. People with CLL may have very high white blood cell counts because of the excess numbers of white blood cells, but the leukaemia white blood cells do not protect against infection the way normal white blood cells do.

Anaemia: Anaemia can cause tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath.

Bruising and bleeding: A shortage of blood platelets can lead to excess bruising, bleeding, severe nosebleeds and bleeding gums.

Additional complications:

Immune system: In some people with CLL, some cells make abnormal antibodies that attack normal blood cells. This is known as autoimmunity. It can lead to low blood cell counts.

Lifestyle Options

For most people, regardless of having CLL or not, exercise, healthy eating and good sleeping habits are recommended. A healthy lifestyle can lead to an enhanced quality of life for most people. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes.

Physical Activity: Research has shown that exercise is safe and can improve how well you function physically along with your quality of life.

How regular exercise can help:

  • Control your weight
  • Improve balance
  • Improve blood flow
  • Improve quality of life
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Keep or improve your physical abilities
  • Lessen fatigue
  • Lessen nausea
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis
  • Lower anxiety
  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Make you less dependent on others

What can patients do?

  • Walk every day
  • Talk with your cancer team about the kind of exercise that you can do to reduce tiredness

What can caregivers do?

  • Exercise/walk with the patient
  • Encourage the patient to do as much for themselves as they can
Complementary Therapy Options

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. These methods can include vitamins, herbs and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Make sure that you talk to your cancer care team; they can help you find out what is known about the method, which can help you make an informed decision.

Medical Treatment

Your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Because CLL often grows slowly, not everyone needs to be treated right away. When treatment is needed, the main treatments used are:


Chemotherapy (chemo) uses anticancer drugs that are taken by mouth or injected into a vein or into a muscle to destroy or control cancer cells. Immunotherapy uses antibodies that are injected into a vein to destroy or control cancer cells.

Targeted therapy

Unlike standard chemotherapy drugs, which work by attacking rapidly growing cells in general (including cancer cells), these drugs attack one or more specific targets on or in cancer cells.

In considering your treatment options, it is a good idea to seek a second opinion. This gives you more information so that you can feel confident with your treatment plan.


Please note that the information on this website is intended for information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for seeking medical advice or treatment from a healthcare professional. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a medical condition or health problem. Speak to a healthcare provider if you have any questions about your health, medical condition, symptoms or treatment options.


Cancer Research UK is a cancer research and awareness charity in the United Kingdom

American Cancer Society (ACS)

For over 100 years, the ACS has worked relentlessly to save lives and create a world with less cancer. Together with millions of our supporters worldwide, the American Cancer Society helps people to stay well and get well, find cures and fight back against cancer.


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