Palliative Care for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 13, 2023
3 min read

Palliative care for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) helps you deal with the physical, emotional, and spiritual issues related to your cancer and its treatments.

This type of care doesn't slow or stop your cancer. Instead, palliative care works along with your cancer treatments to manage side effects and improve your quality of life. It can help you and your loved ones meet the challenges of the disease.

Palliative care isn't the same as hospice care. Hospice helps manage symptoms at the end of life after you've stopped all cancer treatments. Palliative care aims to prevent or relieve suffering and help you feel better while you're on treatment. You can get palliative care at any stage of your illness.

Palliative care combines symptom management with emotional and spiritual support. It can include medicine, diet changes, exercise, relaxation techniques, and talk therapy.

Some of the same treatments that slow the growth of CLL, such as chemotherapy and radiation, are also part of palliative care.

Some examples of palliative care for CLL are:

  • Antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal medicines to prevent infections
  • Medicines to control pain, nausea, and other side effects of your cancer and treatments
  • Surgery to remove your spleen if it's swollen and causing symptoms
  • Radiation or chemotherapy to shrink areas of cancer that are causing pain or pressure in areas like your stomach, spleen, or bones
  • Therapy to help you and your family manage the emotional stress of your cancer and its treatments
  • Help filling out forms or finding resources to pay for your cancer treatment

Another thing your palliative care team can do is explain how each of your treatment options can help you and what side effects they may cause.

Research shows that palliative care helps people with cancer and their caregivers. In studies, people with cancer and other chronic illnesses who had palliative care had a better quality of life and fewer symptoms like nausea and depression.

There's even evidence that starting palliative care soon after you're diagnosed might help you live longer.

You can get palliative care at any cancer stage and at any time during your treatment. The earlier you start, the better.  

As soon as you begin a new therapy, ask your doctor about the side effects it might cause and how palliative care can help you manage them. Also let your doctor know if any unexpected side effects pop up while you're on treatment.

A specially trained group of professionals can give you palliative care. Your team might include a:

  • Doctor
  • Nurse
  • Dietitian
  • Social worker
  • Counselor
  • Patient navigator
  • Physical and occupational therapist
  • Religious leader

You can get palliative care at the cancer hospital where you're being treated, at a clinic, or in your own home.

Many private health insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, will pay for palliative care. But it may be part of long-term or chronic care -- not your regular coverage. Check with your insurance company before you start treatment to see if it will cover these services, and how much you will have to pay out of pocket.

If the doctor who treats your cancer hasn't mentioned palliative care, ask about it. Your doctor can explain your care options and how to get started.