I'm Exhausted: Is It My CLL?

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Topics include: Treatment

Fatigue is by far the most common symptom of CLL.  Dr. Philip Thompson, a CLL expert from MD Anderson Cancer Center, answers a viewer’s question about quality of life with extreme fatigue.  Listen as Dr. Thompson explains why patients may feel fatigue and offers suggestions on how they can work with their physicians to combat it. 

Sponsored through an educational grant from the Patient Empowerment Network, which received support from AbbVie Inc. and Genentech Inc.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Joseph writes in this question about fatigue. He says, “I sometimes have days where I’m extremely tired. Mornings are okay, so I’m able to shower and take care of myself and my home. But by noon, I’m exhausted. I feel I have no quality of life. Just walking across the room, I feel unsteady. Is this fatigue all about my CLL?“

Dr. Thompson:  

This is a really good question. Fatigue is, by far, the most common symptom that patients with CLL have, and the reason for this is that the CLL cells themselves are producing these chemicals called cytokines, and also, they induce the immune system to produce these chemicals called cytokines that are the same chemicals that you make when you’ve got an infection, like the flu. The symptoms that you have when you have the flu, the exhaustion, the fatigue, not being able to get out of bed, this is a common complaints that patients with CLL have. This can happen even when the CLL is, what we call, early stage and doesn’t need to have specific treatment for the CLL.

It can be a big frustration for patients, and it can result in a significantly impaired quality of life. Now, that having been said, fatigue is a somewhat vague symptom, and it have many potential causes, so I would strongly encourage any patient for whom they have significant amount of fatigue, like you, where it’s effecting your quality of life to a significant degree that you should go and see your doctor, be thoroughly evaluated to determine whether there are any other causes for the fatigue.

We see many patients who may have undiagnosed sleep apnea or an undiagnosed endocrine disorder, or any number of other things that can cause fatigue, and treatment of those will make it go away. In many cases, those things are not identified, and it is determined, ultimately, that it was the CLL that’s responsible. Now, in that situation, you have two options. You can take symptomatic treatments.

Some of our patients take stimulant medications to help them with the fatigue, like Ritalin. We also have a clinical study at MD Anderson with a drug called ruxolitinib or Jakafi that is approved in other types of cancers. This drug actually blocks the production of these cytokines quite effectively in many patients, and we’ve noticed at least half of our patients have a fairly significant improvement in their fatigue levels on this treatment. The other option is to receive treatment that’s designed to kill the CLL itself, and which of those is most appropriate depends on your individual circumstances. I would strongly encourage patients with significant fatigue to talk to their doctor about it, make sure it’s not something else, and then discuss what options might be available to help them with that fatigue, because it’s awful going through life feeling exhausted all the time.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on May 5, 2016