Many types of leukemia produce no obvious symptoms in the early stages. Eventually, symptoms may include any of the following:
Anemia and related symptoms, such as fatigue, pallor, and a general feeling of illness.
A tendency to bruise or bleed easily, including bleeding from the gums or nose, or blood in the stool or urine.
Susceptibility to infections such as sore throat or bronchial pneumonia, which may be accompanied by headache, low-grade fever, mouth sores, or skin rash.
CLL is a disorder of morphologically mature but immunologically less mature lymphocytes and is manifested by progressive accumulation of these cells in the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic tissues. In this disorder, lymphocyte counts in the blood are usually greater than or equal to 5,000/mm3 with a characteristic immunophenotype (CD5- and CD23-positive B cells).[3,4] As assays have become more sensitive for detecting monoclonal B-CLL-like cells in peripheral blood, researchers have detected a monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL) in 3% of adults older than 40 years and 6% in adults older than 60 years. Such early detection and diagnosis may falsely suggest improved survival for the group and may unnecessarily worry or result in therapy for some patients who would have remained undiagnosed in their lifetime, a circumstance known in the literature as overdiagnosis or pseudodisease.[6,7]
In two selected series of more than 900 patients followed prospectively for a median of 5 to 7 years, overt CLL requiring chemotherapy occurred in 7% of patients.[5,8] In a database analysis and for up to 77 months before diagnosis, almost all patients with a diagnosis of CLL had prediagnostic B-cell clones that were identified in peripheral blood when available.[4,9]
For patients with progressing CLL, treatment with conventional doses of chemotherapy is not curative; selected patients treated with allogeneic stem cell transplantation have achieved prolonged disease-free survival.[10,11,12,13,14] Antileukemic therapy is frequently unnecessary in uncomplicated early disease. The median survival for all patients ranges from 8 to 12 years in older trials with data from the 1970s through the 1990s.[15,16] There is, however, a large variation in survival among individual patients, ranging from several months to a normal life expectancy. Treatment must be individualized based on the clinical behavior of the disease.
As found in one report, CLL occurs primarily in middle-aged and elderly adults, with increasing frequency in successive decades of life. The clinical course of this disease progresses from an indolent lymphocytosis without other evident disease to one of generalized lymphatic enlargement with concomitant pancytopenia. Complications of pancytopenia, including hemorrhage and infection, represent a major cause of death in these patients. Immunological aberrations, including Coombs-positive hemolytic anemia, immune thrombocytopenia, and depressed immunoglobulin levels may all complicate the management of CLL. Prognostic factors that may help predict clinical outcome include cytogenetic subgroup, immunoglobulin mutational status, ZAP-70, and CD38.[2,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29] (Refer to the Prognostic Factors section in the Stage Information for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia section of this summary for more information.) Patients who develop an aggressive high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma, usually diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and termed a Richter transformation, have a poor prognosis. Patients with CLL are also at increased risk for other malignancies, even before therapy.