Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells. It begins in your bone marrow, which is the spongy substance inside your bones that makes blood cells. In leukemia, the cancer spreads from the bone marrow to the blood and, over time, to other organs and parts of the body. Leukemia is not a single disease. It is complex, consisting of several types and subtypes, each with a different treatment plan and prognosis. The type you have, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, is a slowly growing type that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. Two types of CLL have been identified, one of which grows faster than the other.
Your doctor was able to tell that you have leukemia by blood tests and/or a bone marrow biopsy. In addition to finding out the type of leukemia you have, these tests can also show how far the disease has progressed, which is called the stage.
The good news is that more treatment options exist than ever before. That means there is more hope of successfully treating leukemia.
To decide the best course of treatment for you, your health care team needs to know as much as they can about your leukemia. This may involve having additional testing and working with more than one doctor or other type of health care professional.
Your health care team will likely include an oncologist, an oncology nurse, and a hematologist. They will answer any questions you may have and help you through each of the steps you will take before, during, and after treatment. Your team will let you know what tests you need and the results of those tests. They'll guide you in making treatment decisions.
The decision to treat CLL is complex. For this reason, it's best to find a doctor who is experienced in caring for people with this disease. Many people with CLL may not need any form of treatment for months or years after they are diagnosed. If you do need treatment, you will have time to first have any other necessary tests. You also have time to talk with your doctor about treatment choices, get a second opinion, decide about treatment, and prepare yourself and your loved ones.