CLL is a rare blood cancer which affects less than 100 people worldwide each year. CLL is caused when white blood cells attack healthy red blood cells, leading to their destruction. These abnormal red blood cells then build up in the body’s tissues and organs. If left untreated, these abnormal red blood cells can cause damage to vital organs such as the heart or brain.
The disease usually develops between ages 15 and 30 years. People with CLL are at increased risk of developing other cancers later in life, including leukaemia (cancer of the blood), Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and multiple myeloma (an aggressive form of bone marrow cancer).
CLL is treatable if caught early enough. However, it is not curable. There is no known way to prevent the disease from recurring.
There are currently two main treatments for CLL: chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation. Chemotherapy kills off all the normal immune system cells that normally protect against infections and cancerous cells, while stem cell transplants remove damaged or dead blood stem cells. Both treatments have side effects but they are reversible once diagnosed and treated appropriately.
It is important that anyone who has signs or symptoms of CLL to see a doctor immediately. It is also vital to meet the recommended guidelines for doctors visits and tests even if you do not feel ill. This is to make sure the disease remains stable and does not become life threatening.
Stem cell transplants are the most effective treatment for CLL, but they are not suitable for everyone. Chemotherapy can be effective in treating early-stage CLL. The goal of chemotherapy is to slow the advance of the disease and to relieve symptoms.
A very aggressive type of CLL is called Richter’s transformation, where the cancerous white blood cells change into cancerous plasma cells. This occurs in up to 40% of people with CLL and can occur quickly and without warning. If it does occur, your doctor may advise a stem cell transplant.
A few types of chemotherapy drugs have been approved by the FDA to treat CLL. These are fludarabine, pentostatin and rituximab. Each one works in a different way and may be more effective against your specific CLL cancer cells.
A combination of these drugs may also be used for people who do not respond well to one or even two of these medications.
Although these drugs work well to slow the advance of CLL, they are not a cure. The cancer can reappear in another area of the body later even with the use of these drugs. Also, these drugs do have side effects and can cause long-term damage to other organs in your body.
Even though there is no known way to prevent or cure CLL, it is still important to visit your doctor on a regular basis. It is also important to see your doctor immediately if you have any signs of infection or illness. Early detection and treatment of CLL can help prevent it from becoming more serious.
It is recommended that people with CLL avoid contact sports or any other situations where they could be injured or receive a blow to the hip or chest area. This is because impact in these areas can cause bleeding inside the bone marrow, which can worsen your CLL.
It is also important that you do not miss any scheduled appointments with your doctor. Blood tests and other checks can often detect problems before you experience any symptoms.
While there is no cure for CLL, regular checkups and medical treatments can help keep the disease stable for many years. The best way to preserve your quality of life is to receive the proper medical care, stay positive and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Sources & references used in this article:
Alemtuzumab is an effective therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia with p53 mutations and deletions by G Lozanski, NA Heerema, IW Flinn, L Smith, J Harbison… – Blood, 2004 – ashpublications.org
SF3B1 and Other Novel Cancer Genes in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia by L Wang, MS Lawrence, Y Wan… – … Journal of Medicine, 2011 – Mass Medical Soc
Idelalisib and rituximab in relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia by RR Furman, JP Sharman, SE Coutre… – … Journal of Medicine, 2014 – Mass Medical Soc
Bruton tyrosine kinase represents a promising therapeutic target for treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and is effectively targeted by PCI-32765 by SEM Herman, AL Gordon, E Hertlein, A Ramanunni… – Blood, 2011 – ashpublications.org
Treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia with genetically targeted autologous T cells: case report of an unforeseen adverse event in a phase I clinical trial by R Brentjens, R Yeh, Y Bernal, I Riviere, M Sadelain – Molecular Therapy, 2010 – cell.com