Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Are They the Same Disease?


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Abstract

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common leukemia in the Western world, characterized by peripheral blood B-cell lymphocytosis as well as lymphadenopathy, organomegaly, cytopenias, and systemic symptoms. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells have a distinctive immunophenotype, and the disease has a characteristic pattern of histological infiltration in the lymph node and bone marrow. The clinical course of CLL is heterogeneous, with some patients presenting with very indolent disease and other patients having a more aggressive malignancy. It is known that genetic abnormalities underlie this difference in clinical presentation. Some patients may present solely with lymphadenopathy, organomegaly, and presence of infiltrating monoclonal B cells with the same immunophenotype as CLL cells, but lacking peripheral blood lymphocytosis. This disease is called small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) and has been considered for almost 2 decades to be the tissue equivalent of CLL. Both CLL and SLL are currently considered different manifestations of the same entity by the fourth edition of the World Health Organization Classification of Tumours of Haematopoietic and Lymphoid Tissues. It is suspected that differential expression of chemokine receptors (e.g., reduced expression of R1 and CCR3 in SLL cells), integrins (e.g., CLL cells have lower expression of integrin αLβ2), and genetic abnormalities (a higher incidence of trisomy 12 and lower incidence of del(13q) is found in SLL) may explain some of the clinical differences between these 2 disorders. However, there is still a lack of knowledge on the precise biological basis underlying the different clinical presentations of CLL and SLL. It is expected that future studies will shed light on the pathophysiology of both disorders.

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