What is Lymphocytic Leukemia?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Lymphocytic leukemia is a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It starts from a single mutated cell which divides and creates a surplus in the body of mutated white cells. Because these mutated cells have a longer life span than normal white blood cells, they are capable of quickly populating a person's blood stream and body with defective cells.

Samples of blood from a healthy person and from one with leukemia, a type of blood cancer.
Samples of blood from a healthy person and from one with leukemia, a type of blood cancer.

There are two types of lymphocytic leukemia. The first is chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, and is one of the easiest types of leukemia to treat. It is found most commonly in older adults, and has a very slow progression. The common symptoms include fatigue, frequent illnesses, night sweats, fever, weight loss, and swollen lymph nodes without pain. These symptoms will become more severe as the cancer progresses.

Swollen lymph nodes are a common symptom of lymphocytic leukemia.
Swollen lymph nodes are a common symptom of lymphocytic leukemia.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is usually treated through chemotherapy and medications. During the first stage, treatment is often not required. One in three cases of CLL never move past this first stage and will never require treatment, and it has been shown that early treatment does not affect the course of the cancer. Bone marrow transplants and drug trials have also been successful in treating CLL.

Bleeding gums are a symptom of acute lymphoctic leukemia.
Bleeding gums are a symptom of acute lymphoctic leukemia.

The second type of lymphocytic leukemia is acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). This is a much more rapid cancer than the chronic version, and affects new blood cells, as opposed to more mature cells. It is the most common type of cancer seen in children, but it is also found in adults. The symptoms of ALL include bleeding gums, pale skin, shortness of breath, frequent nosebleeds, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and frequent infections.

Because ALL is such a rapidly moving cancer, it is important to be diagnosed as early as possible, to allow for timely treatment through chemotherapy and prescription medications. There are four phases of treatment for ALL. The first involves getting rid of as many of the leukemia cells as possible induction therapy. The second phase is called the consolidation stage, and focuses on removing leukemia cells from the brain and spinal cord. The third phase is the maintenance phase.

Lower dosages of the cancer-fighting drugs are given to the patient to prevent the leukemia from coming back. The final stage is the preventative stage. During this stage, cancer-fighting drugs are injected into the spinal cord get rid of any cells that the medication and chemotherapy might have missed, to keep the cancer from returning.

Lymphocytic leukemia is usually treatable, if it is caught in time. Acute lymphocytic leukemia has the highest level of remission in children, but even most adults who are treated in time will survive this cancer. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia has a very high remission rate, because its slower progression makes it easy to catch and treat before it is in the later stages. Individuals who are exhibiting the symptoms for lymphocytic leukemia should make an appointment with their doctor to be tested.

Lymphocytic leukemia is usually treatable if it is caught in time.
Lymphocytic leukemia is usually treatable if it is caught in time.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

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Discussion Comments

anon177510

Can CLL turn into Acute and how do I know?

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