7 Myths About Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Understanding LeukemiaLeukemia is one form of cancer that arises in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues. In most cases,it involves white blood cells, which help your body fight off infections from harmful germs. If you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), certain white blood cells, called lymphocytes, don’t function properly. There are many chronic lymphocytic leukemia myths, but you can separate fact from fiction to better understand this disease and which treatments may be right for you.
- Myth #1: There is only one type of leukemia.Unlike other types of cancers, leukemia may take many forms. Each type of leukemia involves your body’s blood-forming tissues, such as your bone marrow. But you may experience different symptoms and benefit from different treatments, depending on the type of leukemia you have. Several types of leukemia progress quickly, but chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) develops slowly over time. If you have CLL, it may be years before you even know you have the condition.
- Myth #2: Leukemia only affects children.Many people mistakenly believe leukemia is a disease that only affects young children and adolescents, but this simply isn’t correct. It’s true that some types of leukemia are much more likely to occur in younger people. But chronic lymphocytic leukemia is much more prevalent in older adults. Your age is a risk factor for developing this disease, since most cases of CLL are initially diagnosed in people older than 70 years.
- Myth #3: You’ll have specific and noticeable symptoms.In its earliest stages, CLL may not cause any noticeable symptoms. And even if you develop symptoms, they may be vague and it can be hard to pinpoint their cause. Common symptoms of CLL include fatigue, fever, frequent infections, pain, night sweats, and weight loss. In some cases, enlarged lymph nodes also signal the presence of the disease. Since many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, you and your doctor may not suspect CLL at first.
- Myth #4: You need to start treatment immediately.Because CLL develops slowly over time, it may not be necessary to begin treatment as soon as you receive a diagnosis. Instead, your doctor may simply recommend “watchful waiting,” or active surveillance of the disease. During this time, you’ll meet with your doctor every few months for checkups, which include blood work. These checkups help your doctor determine whether your CLL is getting worse and, if so, when you should start treatment.
- Myth #5: There is only one treatment for CLL.Thanks to advances in medical science, doctors have more access to innovative treatments designed to manage leukemia. For many people, standard cancer treatments like chemotherapy may be enough to effectively stop the disease’s progression. Other, newer treatments, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy, may be particularly useful in treating CLL. In rare cases, doctors recommend bone marrow transplants, also known as stem cell transplants, to help your body produce healthy lymphocytes.
- Myth #6: Surviving CLL is rare.CLL may not be completely curable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t survive with this disease. Many people who are diagnosed with CLL live for years beyond their diagnosis; according to the National Cancer Institute, almost 63% of people with CLL live 5 years or more after starting treatment. The slow progression of the disease, combined with healthy lifestyle changes and access to newer, more effective therapies, means you can still live life to the fullest.
- Myth #7: It’s impossible to live normally with CLL.Because CLL progresses slowly, most people can still live life normally. Your treatment may last for several years, but working with your doctor can help alleviate symptoms you may experience and prevent possible complications. If you have CLL, staying active and trying alternative therapies like meditation may make it much easier to cope with the disease. Your doctor can help you make a plan for living well and feeling your best after your diagnosis.