Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most common form of leukemia, accounting for approximately 15,000 new cases annually in United States. Unlike acute leukemia, CLL is a ’chronic’ slow-growing blood cancer which usually does not pose an immediate (that is acute) danger to a patient’s health. The disease is often first suspected when the lymphocyte count on a routine blood test is noticed to exceed the normal limit. Other patients may present with a prolonged history of enlarging lymph nodes, or other symptoms caused by more advanced disease. CLL cells are present in the bone marrow, blood, and can involve the lymphatic tissues such as lymph nodes and spleen. Growth of CLL cells in these various compartments of the body can cause a myriad of clinical problems, such as low red blood cells (also known as anemia), low platelet count (also called thrombocytopenia), and/or compression of neighboring vital organs. In addition, CLL is frequently associated with immune abnormalities, causing destruction of normal red cells and platelets, or underproduction of immunoglobulin, which is important in your body’s ability to fight infection. Because different patients have distinct risk factors associated with their CLL, it is imperative to tailor treatment strategy to the individual patients’ disease.
The treatment approaches vary widely, ranging from watchful waiting, immunotherapy, immunochemotherapy, clinical trials, and in rare cases, bone marrow transplantation. For those patients who need treatment, highly effective regimens have been developed over the past several years, producing objective response in more than 90% of CLL patients. Novel drugs and new concepts in CLL management continue to emerge at a rapid pace.