Symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may go undetected for a long time. That said, you may experience fatigue, swollen lymph glands, anemia, and a chronic cough.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of blood cancer that starts in your bone marrow. It affects your white blood cells (lymphocytes), which help your body fight infections.

CLL interferes with how these lymphocytes work. This, in turn, can affect how your immune system functions and increase your risk for respiratory infections and symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about how CLL may affect your body and cause coughing.

CLL first occurs in the lymphocytes inside your bones. However, these white blood cells may enter your bloodstream and affect other areas of your body, such as your lungs.

The authors of a 2017 review of 277 people with CLL found that three common symptoms included:

  • coughing
  • difficulty to swallow
  • increased mucus production

These people were also diagnosed with other conditions that may have caused their cough, including:

  • pneumonia
  • pleural effusion
  • lung cancer
  • leukemic infiltrates

People with CLL may experience respiratory complications with coughing.

This may happen when CLL spreads from your bone marrow to your lungs. Or, it may be caused by an accompanying or secondary condition.

Infection from reduced immunity

CLL affects your white blood cells, making it harder for your immune system to fight off illness. Certain CLL treatments may also make you more susceptible to infections that can affect your lungs, such as pneumonia.

Other types of cancer

People diagnosed with one type of cancer have an increased risk of a second cancer diagnosis. This may be due to several factors, such as:

  • type and stage of initial cancer
  • treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • older age (60 and above)
  • weakened immune system

The authors of a 2017 case report note that people with CLL have a 2% chance of developing lung carcinoma. Lung carcinoma is also responsible for the disease-related deaths of people diagnosed with both conditions.

Enlarged lymph nodes

Your lymph nodes may become enlarged when your body produces antibodies to fight off an infection. The most common areas of swelling are in your neck, armpits, and groins.

However, they may also occur in the central chest and lung area. If the lymph nodes become large enough, they can irritate or obstruct your airways. This may cause symptoms like coughing or difficulty breathing.

Toxicity from medication

Some drugs used to treat CLL, such as chlorambucil, may cause lung toxicity.

Alveoli damage

Alveoli are air sacs in the lungs. A CLL itself may cause hemorrhage (bleeding), or it may be a side effect of the use of anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medication used to reduce the chance of dangerous blood clots.

Pulmonary embolism

This is a blockage in a lung blood vessel usually caused by a blood clot that arrives from another area of the body.

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is when the blood clot originates in a vein.

The authors of a 2018 study in Denmark followed up with 3,609 people just over 2.5 years after their initial CLL diagnosis. They found that 92 people experienced a VTE.

Pulmonary embolisms can be treated if they’re 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 is an accumulation of fluid such as blood or pus around your lungs. Even though this fluid is outside the lungs, it can still cause coughing and shortness of breath because it takes up space in the lung cavity.

The authors of a 2016 study found that 4% of people with CLL in their institution between 2000 and 2016 underwent surgery to clear their pleural effusion.

Partial or total lung collapse

A collapsed lung can result from pleural effusion since fluid outside your lung can prevent your lung from expanding.

More than half of people with CLL don’t have any symptoms when they’re diagnosed.

In these cases, treatment doesn’t need to be started right away. A 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:

  • recurring infections
  • anemia
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • more frequent bleeding or bruising
  • unexplained weight loss
  • cough
  • night sweats
  • difficulty breathing
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • pain or fullness in the stomach (due to spleen enlargement)
  • jaundice

Speak with a doctor if you experience any new symptoms. They can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

CLL may cause anemia, which could lead to chest pain. This is a condition where there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body.

Approximately 10% of people with CLL can develop hemolytic anemia. This happens when your red blood cells get destroyed more quickly than they’re replaced.

Chest pain is also a more serious symptom of iron deficiency anemia. This type of anemia is caused by having low levels of iron in your body.

Certain lung complications associated with CLL may cause chest pain, such as pneumonia, lung cancer, and pulmonary effusion.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience:

  • a new cough that won’t go away
  • symptoms of CLL
  • an abnormality in your routine blood test

They can make a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

Remember, CLL may go undetected for a while. It’s rare to be diagnosed with CLL if you’re under 40 years old and many people don’t experience symptoms at all.

CLL is a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow and affects your white blood cells.

Although most people don’t experience symptoms for a while, it can weaken your immune system, increase your risk of infections, and even affect your lungs.

Speak with a doctor if you experience any symptoms of CLL, such as an unexpected, new cough.