What is CLL?

CLL stands for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It is a type of blood cancer that involves lymphocytes—white blood cells that help fight infections. When you have CLL, abnormal lymphocytes build up in the blood and bone marrow. Over time, these abnormal cells crowd the healthy cells. The result is fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This leads to problems such as infection, anemia, and excess bruising and bleeding. Abnormal lymphocytes may also build up in lymph nodes, the liver, or the spleen (an organ in your abdomen). This can lead to swelling of these organs.

What are the symptoms of CLL?

Everyone experiences CLL differently. CLL does not always cause symptoms. In early stages of CLL, you are less likely to be bothered by symptoms. Still, it is important to pay attention to how your CLL may be affecting you. Tell your doctor if you notice any symptoms or changes in your health.

The symptoms you should watch for include:

  • Weakness
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (felt as lumps under the skin)
  • Pain or a sense of “fullness” in the belly (especially after eating a small meal)
  • Infections
  • Excess bruising and bleeding

Symptoms of CLL may be seen in other conditions as well. Only your doctor will be able to tell if your symptoms are related to CLL.

Your doctor will be looking for:

  • An increase in the number of abnormal white blood cells
  • A decrease in the number of normal blood cells
  • Swelling in your lymph nodes, liver, or spleen

Worsening of symptoms is reason to start treatment for CLL. Remember to talk with your healthcare team.