Peripheral neuropathy is a rare complication of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It may also be a side effect of certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) makes up about 25% of all new leukemia diagnoses in the United States. Though CLL commonly progresses more slowly than acute leukemias and may never require treatment, it can eventually lead to complications.

The most common complications of CLL include infections (prolonged or frequent), anemia, or thrombocytopenia. Peripheral neuropathy (PN) is a very rare manifestation of CLL.

Keep reading to learn more about PN and other complications associated with CLL.

What is peripheral neuropathy?

PN is caused by damage to your peripheral nerves, which carry messages both to and from your brain and spinal cord. Symptoms depend on the exact type of peripheral nerves involved, but may include:

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Generally speaking, PN is uncommon in people with CLL. For example, in a 2017 study, out of 816 people with CLL, only 19 of them (2.2%) had confirmed PN.

It’s also unlikely that CLL itself leads to PN. In very rare cases, leukemia cells can get into peripheral nerves, leading to PN. This is called neuroleukemiosis and happens in only 1% of people with any kind of leukemia.

Cancer treatments

In many situations, PN can develop due to one or a combination of other causes, such as treatments for cancer, especially chemotherapy. The 2017 study discussed above found that PN was more common in people previously treated for CLL.

Certain CLL treatments carry potential side effects of PN. These include:

Other contributing factors

Other factors that may contribute to PN in people with CLL include:

CLL can lead to a variety of other complications. These include:

The treatment of PN can depend on which types of peripheral nerves are affected. Some of the potential treatments that a doctor might recommend include:

PN can happen as a complication of some cancers. While it can occur in some individuals with CLL, it is not very common.

Some possible causes of PN in people with CLL can include things like the side effects of treatment, some preexisting health conditions, and certain infections. In some people, multiple factors may contribute.

CLL is also associated with a variety of complications like low blood cell counts and transformation into more aggressive cancers.

If you’ve recently received a CLL diagnosis, be sure to ask your healthcare team about potential complications, their symptoms, and how to address them if they occur.