As blood gets pumped around the human body, it delivers both oxygen and nutrients to vital organs and cells, while at the same time removing the carbon dioxide and other waste in the process. Blood is made-up of trillions of microscopic cells that can be found in a watery liquid called plasma. These blood cells are broken down into three different types: red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes).
All three types of cells have a specific purpose within the body; however, when these cells become contaminated they cease to function correctly. White blood cells are created in bone marrow from stem cells, and are broken down into three different types. After their creation they are introduced into the blood circulatory and lymphatic system. Although part of the immune system and an important part in fighting off infection, they make-up for only about 1% of all cells that can be found in human blood.
When white blood cells become cancerous, the disease is called “leukemia.” Leukemia causes the bone marrow where white cells are created to produce abnormal cells. These same cells in turn cause healthy blood cells to be hampered by crowding them out and making it more difficult for the blood to do its job properly. Chronic lmphocytic leukemia (CLL) is where too many lymphocytes (white cells) are produced.
It is not uncommon for CLL to show no symptoms at all in a sufferer, and is only usually discovered after a routine check-up has been ordered relating to another illness. However, when symptoms do occur, they are generally the same as those that are associated with many other types of cancers: swelling (of the lymph nodes in the neck, under the arm in the armpit, the stomach and groin [this swelling is usually painless]), pain below the ribs (usually very painful [sometime a sense of fullness of the stomach may be experienced]), weight loss without a reason as to why (without diet or exercise), and a fever or infection.
Treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted therapy where substances are used to attack cancerous cells without harming the healthy ones. These may include monoclonal antibodies (man-made immune system proteins), cancer vaccines (substances designed to trigger a response within the body that act against certain types of diseases), or non-specific immunotherapies (treatments designed to stimulate the immune system [man-made cytokines such as interleukins or interferons]).
Targeted drugs usually have less severe side-effects than traditional chemotherapy drugs and are a better option for the patient.
A bone marrow transplant may also be considered, sometimes offering a patient a better chance to be cured.