Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My mother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and I have been trying to research as much as I can about this disease. My mother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and I have been trying to research as much as I can about this disease. There is a lot of information out there, but it can be quite confusing and overwhelming. Is this curable? What is her prognosis? If you could just answer my few questions listed above, you will have helped me tremendously.
Selina M. Luger, MD, Director of the Leukemia Program and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is the most common leukemia, with over 10,000 new cases per year. Although we do not usually consider CLL curable, it is generally an indolent, or slow growing disease, which may not cause problems for many years. Usually therapy is only initiated if problems or complications are noted. CLL is usually diagnosed after a routine blood test shows that the white blood cell count is elevated, and that the majority of white blood cells are lymphocytes. Special studies can be done on the blood to confirm that these cells are CLL cells. As CLL can also cause an accumulation of these cells in the lymph nodes, patients are examined to see if they have any enlarged lymph nodes and the physician may choose to obtain a CT scan to look to see if the lymph nodes, liver or spleen are enlarged. Although the white blood count can vary over the years from minimally elevated to 10-20 time! s normal, if there are no other problems, patients often don't need to start therapy. Only if there is bothersome enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver or spleen or a decrease in the normal blood counts (hemoglobin and platelet counts) do we usually begin therapy. It can be years after a patient is diagnosed with CLL before they require any therapy, and over the last decade or so, the therapeutic options for CLL have evolved tremendously and they continue to do so.