Overview of chronic lymphocytic leukemia progression
Getting diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is usually a bit of a surprise considering that it doesn’t present with physical symptoms.
Initially, your doctor may advise that you delay treatment until the symptoms of disease progression show up. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia develops slowly, so it can take years before the first symptoms show up. During this time, your doctor will ask that you do regular check-ups so that he or she can monitor your blood cell counts.
If the condition continues to progress, your symptoms will worsen. Initially, the symptoms are mild, and then get worse as these bad cells accumulate in the body.
What are the symptoms of CCL progression?
Understanding the symptoms of CCL progression will let you know when things have gone awry so you can visit your doctor and start treatment on time.
Losing 10 percent of your body weight without any explainable cause over a 6-month timeline could be an indication that your CCL is progressing. So, you’re losing weight even when you’re not dieting.
Extreme tiredness and dyspnea (shortness of breath) is another sign of a progressing CLL. You feel tired and worn out, and can’t breathe well even when you’re not engaged in any strenuous activity. This is due to the low number of healthy red blood cells circulating in your system and more cancer cells building up in your body.
Night sweats and fever
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia progression causes fever. The fever is usually above 100.4°F and lasts for weeks even when there’s no sign of any infection. You may also sweat heavily at night.
Lab tests appear abnormal
When you go for a check-up, your lab tests may return with fewer than normal numbers of platelets and red blood cells. A condition in which your red blood cell count is drastically low is called anemia. On the other hand, the low platelet count is known as thrombocytopenia.
Also, lab tests may indicate an increase in lymphocyte count by more than 50% within two months or doubled in less than 6 months.
Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia usually have a very weak immune system and so are prone to infections. This is because they do not have enough healthy white blood cells to protect them against infections.
Swollen lymph nodes
Lymph nodes are a component of your immune system. They are usually located in the groin, neck, and close to your armpits. CLL cells can gather in large numbers in the lymph nodes thus causing them to swell. Swollen lymph nodes look and feel like a lump beneath your skin.
Your spleen filters your blood. As bad cells accumulate in the blood, the spleen may swell. An enlarged spleen can cause a sensation of fullness in your stomach or abdominal discomfort.
How fast does chronic lymphocytic leukemia progress?
All cases of CLL differ from each other, and it may be hard to determine if your condition will progress or not. In some patients, the condition may progress speedily, while in others, it may go on for years with no new symptoms showing up.
People who get their diagnosis at a higher stage of the disease may progress at a faster rate. CLL is diagnosed under the Rai system. And under this system, stage 0 is low risk, 1-2 are considered intermediate risk, while 3-4 are, of course, high risk. You must consult your doctor about your diagnosis and ask him or her to explain its meaning in terms of disease progression.
Can chronic lymphocytic leukemia develop into lymphoma?
In some cases (which are rare though), chronic lymphocytic leukemia can develop into Richter transformation (Richter’s syndrome). Richter’s syndrome is a high-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It occurs in at least five percent of CLL patients or people with small lymphocytic lymphoma during their ailment.
When a CLL patient has Richter’s syndrome, he or she may experience a dramatic increase in some symptoms. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent bruising and bleeding due to the low amount of blood platelets
- Chronic fatigue
- Night sweats and fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes in the axilla, neck, groin, or abdomen.
Can my doctor slow down chronic lymphocytic leukemia progression?
Well, it may not be possible to slow down the progression of this disease, but then, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is generally cancer with a slow rate of progression. Presently, early treatment for low-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia appears not to be beneficial.
Studies have shown that epigallocatechin 3 gallate (EGCG), an active ingredient in green tea, may slow down chronic lymphocytic leukemia progression in its early stages. Also, research has shown that having a high level of vitamin D in the blood is associated with a slower progression of the disease. Yet still, more research has to be done on these potential benefits.
Prevention of Richter’s syndrome may be difficult. Its main causes are also unclear. Common factors that constitute a risk for Richter’s syndrome include inherited genetic characteristics or certain genetic mutations that are difficult to prevent.
Important points to note
If your CLL has been diagnosed at the early stage, consult your doctor regularly so you can observe the status of your cancer. If the symptoms show up, like swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, weight loss, excessive tiredness or fever, see your hematologist or oncologist without delay.