Leukemia - Chronic Lymphocytic - CLL: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

People with CLL may experience the following symptoms or signs. Most often, people with CLL have no symptoms. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not leukemia

Often, people are diagnosed with CLL when the doctor finds many white blood cells during a blood test done for another reason. Also, the immune system of people with CLL may not work well. This means that the body’s immune system sometimes makes abnormal antibodies against their own red blood cells and/or platelets. The antibodies destroy these cells, causing anemia or low numbers of platelets. These type of antibodies are called autoantibodies. People with CLL can develop autoantibodies at any time and this is not necessarily related to the severity of the CLL.

Other possible symptoms of CLL are:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes or glands in the neck, under the arms, or in the groin. This is a common symptom that people with CLL usually notice first. The enlarged lymph nodes are not usually painful.

  • Discomfort or fullness in the upper left part of the abdomen, caused when the spleen increases in size

  • Symptoms often called “B symptoms” that include fever, chills, night sweats, and weight loss

  • Recurrent infections

  • Abnormal bleeding

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Feeling full despite not eating much

  • Malaise, or generally not feeling well

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If leukemia is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.