Munson Health
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

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by McCoy K




Symptoms include:


Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include:

Watchful Waiting

A doctor monitors the progress of the disease. Other treatment is not started until symptoms appear to change and become a problem. During this time, other problems, including infection, can be treated. Watchful waiting is often used in low-risk CLL. Some patients may go for many years before more aggressive treatment is needed.

Radiation Therapy

This therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. For CLL, external radiation therapy is used. The radiation is directed at the tumor from outside the body. This treatment is used to treat the brain and spinal cord when indicated. It is also used to treat lymph node issues.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given by pill, injection, or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. It kills mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.


A splenectomy may be done. This is a surgery to remove the spleen.

Monoclonal Antibody Therapy

This therapy uses antibodies made in a lab. The antibodies help to identify substances on cancer cells or on normal cells that may help cancer grow. The antibodies attach to these substances. This kills the cancer cells, blocking their growth, or preventing them from spreading.

Chemotherapy With Stem Cell Transplant

Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant as a treatment for CLL is still being tested in clinical trials. In this treatment, chemotherapy is followed by a transplantation of immature blood cells called stem cells. The stem cells replace blood-forming cells destroyed by cancer treatment. Stem cells are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or donor, and infused into the patient.

Treatment of Side Effects

Patients will suffer side effects not only from the leukemia, but from therapy. These include:
  • A reduction in red blood cells that can lead to anemia
  • Reduced numbers of platelets that assist in blood clotting—called thrombocytopenia
  • Decreased numbers of the white blood cells that fight infection
Anemia may lead to fatigue. If severe enough, it can complicate respiratory or cardiac disease. Thrombocytopenia may lead to bleeding and bruising. Decreased numbers of white blood cells leave a patient more prone to infection.
Drugs are available to increase production of normal blood cells. When counts are very low, your doctor may recommend blood transfusions. You may also need to change your daily activities to reduce the chance of fatigue, bleeding, or infection.


American Cancer Society

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

National Cancer Institute



BC Cancer Agency

Canadian Cancer Society



Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (PDQ): treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: . Accessed January 30, 2013.

Leukemia–chronic lymphocytic. American Cancer Society website. Available at: . Accessed January 30, 2013.

05/12/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Davis AS, Viera AJ, et al. Leukemia: an overview for primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2014 May 1;89(9):731-8.


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