Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that starts in your bone marrow and affects white blood cells.

CLL can go undetected for a long time and is often discovered during a routine blood test or doctor’s exam.

While CLL is often diagnosed before any symptoms set in, some people may experience vague symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • fever
  • chills

Other people may even experience cough as a symptom of CLL. Read on to better understand the link between cough and CLL.

When functioning properly, white blood cells — known as lymphocytes — help your body fight infections. CLL interferes with how these lymphocytes work.

This, in turn, can affect how your immune system functions. As a result, they can increase your risk for respiratory infections and trigger symptoms like coughing.

Even though CLL first occurs in the lymphocytes inside your bones, these blood cells don’t stay there. Affected lymphocytes can enter your bloodstream and travel to other areas of your body, where they may lead to symptoms like coughing.

Coughing can also be caused by related conditions, such as other types of cancer that can happen at the same time as CLL.

If you have a new cough, make an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause. Whether your cough is from CLL or another condition might affect your treatment approach.

People with CLL may experience respiratory complications. Sometimes this is related to the CLL itself. Other times it’s the result of an accompanying condition.

Lung issues related to CLL include:

  • Infection from reduced immunity. CLL changes your white blood cells, making it harder for your immune system to fight off illness. If you have CLL, you’re at an increased risk of lung infections like pneumonia.
  • Other types of cancer. People diagnosed with one type of cancer have an increased risk of a second cancer diagnosis. Even if your CLL is being treated and controlled, a new and unrelated cancer can appear, such as lung cancer. Even if the secondary cancer starts somewhere else in your body, like your skin or colon, it can spread and affect your lungs.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes. This may occur in the central chest, between the lungs, and cause complications in CLL. If the lymph nodes become large enough, they can irritate or obstruct your airways.
  • Toxicity from medication. A side effect of certain drugs used to treat CLL can cause lung toxicity. Ask your doctor to explain the side effects of your medications.
  • Alveoli damage. Alveoli are air sacs in the lungs and can hemorrhage (bleed) if you have CLL. This can be from the CLL itself or it can be a side effect of the use of anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medication used to reduce the chance of dangerous blood clots.
  • Pulmonary embolism. This type of blockage in a lung blood vessel is usually caused by a blood clot that arrives from another area of the body. When the blood clot originates in a vein, it’s called venous thromboembolism, which can occur in CLL. Pulmonary embolisms can be treated if they are small and caught in time, but they may cause lung damage. Clots that are large enough to interrupt blood flow to the lungs can be fatal.
  • Pulmonary leukostasis. This is an accumulation of leukemia cells in small blood vessels in your lungs, which can block blood flow and deprive lung tissue of oxygen.
  • Pleural effusion. This refers to the accumulation of fluid around the lungs. Even though this fluid is outside the lungs, it can still cause shortness of breath because it takes up space in the lung cavity. Symptoms of pleural effusion also include pain and cough. Pleural effusion can be caused by cancer, pneumonia, or a pulmonary embolism.
  • Partial or total lung collapse. This can result from pleural effusion, since fluid outside your lung can prevent it from expanding, causing it to collapse.

Around 50 percent to 75 percent of people with CLL have no symptoms when they’re first diagnosed. In those cases, treatment doesn’t need to be started right away, and often your doctor may recommend a wait-and-watch approach.

It’s the onset of symptoms that typically indicates your CLL is progressing and may need to be treated. These symptoms can include:

  • weakness or fatigue
  • low-grade fever
  • chills
  • unexplained weight loss
  • appetite loss
  • cough
  • night sweats
  • difficulty breathing
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • pain or fullness in the stomach (due to spleen enlargement)
  • increased occurrence of infections, like skin infections, pneumonia, or sinusitis
  • jaundice
  • anemia

If you experience any new symptoms, speak with your doctor so they can help you determine whether they’re related to CLL — and if it’s time to start treatment.

CLL can lead to conditions that result in chest pain. This may include:

Anemia

This is a condition in which there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body.

As CLL progresses, cancerous cells in your bone marrow crowd out your body’s ability to produce red blood cells. This results in too few red cells in your blood.

If you’re anemic, there isn’t enough oxygen transported throughout your body. As a result, you may experience chest pain.

Lung complications

Certain lung complications can develop if you have CLL. That includes pneumonia, lung cancer, collapsed lung, blocked blood vessels, and fluid around the lung. Any of these lung complications can bring on chest pain.

CLL is a type of cancer that starts in bone marrow and affects white blood cells. It can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of infections like pneumonia. It can also spread into your bloodstream and affect other areas of your body, including the lungs.

When coughing occurs with CLL, it’s important to see your doctor. They can determine the underlying cause of the cough and recommend proper treatment.