Diagnosis of CLL
If you have symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) or a routine blood test suggests CLL, your GP will examine you and arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist called a haematologist for further tests.
If the tests show you have CLL, the specialist will work out how far it has progressed. This is known as staging.
After a CLL diagnosis, you are likely to see a range of health professionals, who will all play a part in your treatment.
Many people feel shocked and upset when told they have CLL. If you need support, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
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Your doctors may mention two conditions related to chronic lymphocytic leukaemia: monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL).
Monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL)
Some people are diagnosed with a blood abnormality called monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL). MBL is a condition that resembles CLL, but isn’t classed as leukaemia as there aren’t enough abnormal cells present.
MBL doesn’t require treatment, but you will need regular blood tests to monitor your lymphocyte count. A small number of people with MBL develop CLL that requires treatment.
Small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL)
Small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) has traditionally been classed as a non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, it is now considered to be the same disease as CLL and is treated in a similar way.
Both SLL and CLL are diseases of the lymphocytes, but in SLL the abnormal lymphocytes are mainly in the lymph nodes, while in CLL they are mainly in the blood and bone marrow. Some doctors may refer to small lymphocytic lymphoma as CLL/SLL.
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Dr Kate Melville, Haematology Staff Specialist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Lecturer, The University of Newcastle; Karl Jobburn, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Haematology, Liverpool Hospital; Patricia Masters, Consumer; Karen Robinson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Emma Verner, Staff Specialist, Haematology, and Medical Director, Bone Marrow Transplant and Apheresis Unit, Concord Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, The University of Sydney.
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