Know the signs of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells and tends to progress slowly over many years. It mainly affects people over the age of 60 and is rare in people under 40, with children almost never affected.

Generally, about 7 out of 10 people will survive their leukaemia for five years or more after being diagnosed. Younger, healthier people who are diagnosed when CLL is still in the early stages generally have the best outlook.

The cancer occurs when the spongy material found inside some bones (bone marrow) produces too many white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are not fully developed and do not work properly. Over time this can cause a range of problems, such as an increased risk of picking up infections, persistent tiredness, swollen glands in the neck, armpits or groin, and unusual bleeding or bruising. CLL is different from other types of leukaemia, including chronic myeloid leukaemia, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia.

CLL does not usually cause any symptoms early on and may only be picked up during a blood test carried out for another reason. When symptoms develop, they may include:

  • infections happening more often
  • anaemia – persistent tiredness, shortness of breath and pale skin
  • bleeding and bruising more easily than normal
  • a high temperature
  • night sweats
  • swollen glands in your neck, armpits or groin
  • swelling and discomfort in your tummy
  • unintentional weight loss

You should visit your GP if you have any persistent or worrying symptoms. As CLL progresses slowly and often has no symptoms at first, you may not need to be treated immediately.

If it’s caught early on, you’ll have regular check-ups over the following months or years to see if it’s getting any worse. If CLL starts to cause symptoms or is not diagnosed until later on, the main treatments are:

  • chemotherapy – where medication taken as a tablet or given directly into a vein is used to destroy the cancerous cells
  • targeted cancer drugs – where you’re given medication that changes the way cells work and helps the body control the growth of cancer
  • radiotherapy – where high-energy waves similar to X-rays are used to kill cancer cells

Treatment cannot usually cure CLL completely but can slow its progression and lead to periods where there are no symptoms. Treatment may be repeated if the condition comes back.

If you feel you are showing a number of the symptoms linked to chronic lymphocytic leukaemia then you should book an apt with your GP.

To book a private appointment with one of our GPs please visit our website or call 0161 394 0319.

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