Q: I recently learned of a blood cancer that mainly affects people over
60. How do I know if I’m at risk and what can I do about it?
Dr. Hugo Hool, Torrance Memorial Physician Network, Oncologist
You’re talking about chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL. It’s
most common in people between the ages of 65 and 74. CLL is a cancer of
the blood that affects a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes,
which help your body fight infection. It is sometime call small lymphocytic
lymphoma (SLL) but is the same disease.
CLL causes fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, anemia, weight loss and night
sweats. It can also increase your risk for infection as well as your risk
for other cancers, especially squamous cell skin cancer.
CLL is usually discovered during other screening tests. For example, a
mammogram might detect swollen lymph nodes, or blood work will show an
elevated lymphocyte count.
Most patients do not require extensive therapy early in the disease, but
as CLL progresses it can threaten the bone marrow and cause infections.
That’s when treatment with chemotherapy and antibody therapy is
needed. Some new treatment options that we’re very excited about
are Venetoclax and Ibrutinib. Both are oral small molecular inhibitors
of cell function. They’re clinically shown to greatly improve survival
rates in CLL sufferers with high risk disease and have fewer side effects.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent CLL. It appears to occur over time
as a result of environmental factors and spontaneous genetic mutation.
However, you can help ensure an early diagnosis for the best possible
outcome by visiting your primary care physician every year and keeping
up with your routine health screenings. Should you have lymph node swelling
or night sweats without cause, get evaluated by your primary care physician