Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) - Refractory

What is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)?

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that begins in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. CLL affects a type of white blood cell found in the bone marrow and lymph nodes, called B lymphocytes. Over time, these cells get bigger in size and numbers, developing into a tumor. The disease affects mainly adults, practitioners believe it is caused by genetic mutations caused by exposure to radiation, chemicals, or other environmental agents.

What is refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)?

Refractory CLL is CLL that does not respond to treatment or progresses during treatment. Refractory CLL can be classified as primary or secondary; primary refractory CLL occurs when a person’s CLL is resistant to all currently available treatments at diagnosis, while secondary refractory CLL occurs when a person’s CLL is initially responsive to treatment but becomes resistant after some time.

Symptoms of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

CLL can remain asymptomatic for long periods of time, but when symptoms do occur they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Pale skin

Diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

CLL is usually suspected in adults who have had an unexplained increase in their white blood cell count. Diagnosis of CLL is made by a combination of blood tests, physical examination, and imaging. Blood tests such as complete blood count (CBC), peripheral blood smear, and immunophenotyping helps to differentiate CLL from other white blood cell disorders. Physical examination such as lymph node assessment and imaging helps to assess the degree of organ enlargement and assess for the presence of metastases.

Treatments for Refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Treatment for refractory CLL is customized to the type of CLL and the individual’s overall health. Options include:

  • Chemotherapy: Drugs may be prescribed to shrink the tumors or kill cancer cells.
  • Stem cell transplant: This is a procedure used to replace cancerous bone marrow with healthy cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Drugs are used to stimulate the immune system to attack tumor cells.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted drugs work by interfering with specific proteins involved in the progression of CLL.

Living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

CLL is a chronic condition that can be managed with proper medical care and ongoing monitoring. Treatment is aimed at alleviating symptoms, controlling the cancer’s progression, and preventing complications. Good self-care also plays an important role in managing the condition, such as following a healthy diet, getting enough rest, engaging in regular physical activity, quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol.