The two types of blood cancer are more similar than the name implies.
A blood cancer diagnosis can be complex and confusing. There are four main types of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, and myelodysplastic syndromes, and multiple myeloma. But each of these types can be further broken down into subtypes, such as acute myeloid leukemia or chronic myeloid leukemia. Learn more about types of leukemia here.
One particular pair of blood cancer subtypes stand out, because they share several characteristics, despite falling into two different types of blood cancer (leukemia and lymphoma). These subtypes are called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). “[SLL] and CLL are actually the small disease that manifests a little differently,” says Michal Bar-Natan Zommer, MD, assistant professor of hematology and oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It begins in the early blood cells that form in the bone marrow, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. On the other hand, lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph system. That includes the lymph nodes, as well as the lymph tissue that’s found in organs around the body (such as the tonsils and spleen).
In people with CLL, the cancer begins in lymphocyte cells, a type of white blood cell, and the “chronic” label refers to the slow progression of the cancer growth. “Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a very slow-growing leukemia,” says Dr. Zommer. “The majority of the patients are asymptomatic.”
While CLL starts in the bone marrow, it typically spreads. “The cells growing in the [bone marrow and blood] eventually will grow in the lymph nodes, in the spleen, or in the liver,” says Dr. Zommer. Once CLL has spread to the lymph nodes, patients are more likely to experience leukemia symptoms.
Since both CLL and SLL affect lymphocytes and can affect the lymph system, the distinction depends on where the cancer is primarily located. “If the majority of the disease is in the lymph nodes or spleen—with less involvement in the blood and bone marrow—we call it small lymphocytic lymphoma,” says Dr. Zommer. If the cancer is mostly in the blood and bone marrow, it’s CLL.
Treatment for CLL and SLL may begin with the “watch and wait” method. “Some [patients] progress very slowly and the patient will not need treatment for many years,” says Dr. Zommer. If the cancer progresses to a stage that requires treatment, chemotherapy or biological therapies may be used. Learn more about types of treatment for blood cancer here.
“Today the prognosis is better than it was before,” says Dr. Zommer. Lots of ongoing research is providing new ideas, insights, and potential solutions. “Fighting the cancer [has] become easier [and] more successful with time.”
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Small lymphocytic lymphoma and chronic
lymphocytic leukemia are actually the same
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disease that manifest
a little differently.
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Leukemia are a group of blood cancers of
cells that originate in the bone marrow.
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We have few different kinds of leukemia.
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The main thing will be acute
leukemia versus chronic leukemia.
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And this usually implies the rapidity
of the cells that are multiplying.
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With the chronic phase, the cells usually
grow very slowly and accumulate over time.
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And therefore, many of the patients have
no symptoms for a long period of time.
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The most common type of leukemia in adults
will be chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is
a very slow-growing leukemia.
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The cell that is having
the mutation is of lymphoid origin.
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The majority of patients are asymptomatic.
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However, symptoms can occur if
the majority of the disease is
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being with lymph nodes or spleen.
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Then we call it small
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If the bone marrow in
the blood are involved,
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then we call it chronic
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Often, we do not even give treatment in
the beginning; we just watch the patient.
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Because some of them
progress very slowly and
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the patient will not need treatment for
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When time comes, we can have chemotherapy
or other biological treatments.
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We are in an exciting time in
cancer therapy because we have many
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And today the prognosis is
better than it was before.
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We have better treatments to ease
the burden of the chemotherapy.
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We have better medication for
nausea, better medication for pain.
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Fighting the cancer journey becomes
easier and easier with time.
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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment (PDQ) - patient version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute, 2018. (Accessed on November 15, 2018 at https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/cll-treatment-pdq.)
Leukemia. Rye Brook, NY: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (Accessed on November 15, 2018 at https://www.lls.org/leukemia.)
Lymphoma. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on November 15, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/lymphoma.html.)
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). Rye Brook, NY: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (Accessed on November 15, 2018 at https://www.lls.org/lymphoma/non-hodgkin-lymphoma.)