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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of blood cancer. It mainly affects older adults.

There are many different types of leukemia. CLL is the most common type. It makes up one-third of all leukemia cases.

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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia starts in white blood cells in the bone marrow. This is the soft inner part of bones. Over time, CLL leukemia cells can build up and spread to other parts of the body.

Chronic types of leukemia like CLL tend to take longer to grow. This allows patients to live longer with the disease. However, doctors find these types are generally more difficult to cure than acute types of leukemia.

There are two types of CLL. One type grows slowly and rarely requires treatment. The other type moves more quickly and is more serious.

Although the cells of the two types look alike, lab tests can tell them apart.

If you receive a diagnosis of CLL, discuss with your doctor which type you have and what you might expect.

Risk Factors for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

A risk factor is something that increases your risk of getting a disease. Risk factors don't tell the whole story, though. For example, you can have few risk factors and still get a disease or have several and not get it.

Risk factors for CLL may include:

  • Chemical exposure. Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War, is linked to CLL. Long-term pesticide use may also be a risk factor. More research is needed to confirm this link.
  • Family history. If a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, has had CLL, you may have an increased risk as well.
  • Gender. For unknown reasons, men are more likely than women to get CLL.
  • Race/ethnicity. People of North American and European descent are at greater risk for CLL.

If you have CLL, you have a higher risk of developing a second cancer.

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