WHAT IS CHRONIC LYM­PHO­CYTIC LEUKAEMIA?

The Riverine Herald - - MONDAY CONVERSATION... -

EACH year in Aus­tralia about 1000 peo­ple are di­ag­nosed with chronic lym­pho­cytic leukaemia (CLL), mak­ing it the most com­mon type of leukaemia. Gen­er­ally, CLL is a rare dis­ease, ac­count­ing for 0.8 per cent of all can­cers di­ag­nosed. The risk of de­vel­op­ing CLL in­creases with age and al­most 80 per cent of all new cases are di­ag­nosed in peo­ple aged 60 years and older. CLL is rare in peo­ple un­der 40 and oc­curs more fre­quently in men than in women. Chronic CLL is a type of slow grow­ing leukaemia that af­fects de­vel­op­ing B-lym­pho­cytes (also known as B-cells). These cells are spe­cialised white blood cells. Un­der nor­mal con­di­tions they pro­duce im­munoglob­u­lins (also called an­ti­bod­ies) that help pro­tect our bod­ies against in­fec­tion and dis­ease. In peo­ple with CLL, lym­pho­cytes un­dergo a ma­lig­nant (can­cer­ous) change and be­come leukaemic cells. For many peo­ple, CLL re­mains sta­ble for many months and years and has lit­tle, if any, im­pact on their life­style or general health. About 30 per cent of peo­ple di­ag­nosed with CLL never re­quire any treat­ment for their dis­ease and can sur­vive for many years de­spite their di­ag­no­sis. For oth­ers, the leukaemic cells mul­ti­ply in an un­con­trolled way. These cells are ab­nor­mal and as such they are un­able to func­tion prop­erly. They live longer than they should and ac­cu­mu­late in the bone mar­row, blood stream, lymph nodes (glands), spleen, liver and other parts of the body. Over time, an ex­cess num­ber of lym­pho­cytes crowd the bone mar­row, and in­ter­fere with nor­mal blood cell pro­duc­tion. The bone mar­row pro­duces inad­e­quate num­bers of red cells, nor­mal white blood cells and platelets. This leads to some peo­ple with CLL be­ing more sus­cep­ti­ble to anaemia, re­cur­rent in­fec­tions and bruis­ing and bleed­ing eas­ily. Cir­cu­lat­ing red blood cells and platelets can also be dam­aged by ab­nor­mal pro­teins made by the leukaemic cells.

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