Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a cancer of the blood, and pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. CLL is a risk factor for pneumonia, and it can cause other lung complications.

In this article, we examine the connections between CLL, pneumonia, and related lung complications. We also describe how doctors treat the effects of CLL on the lungs.

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Cancer cannot directly cause lung infections, which means that CLL cannot cause pneumonia.

However, there is evidence that CLL is a risk factor for infections including pneumonia. Because of the increased risk, doctors recommend that people with CLL receive vaccination against pneumonia.

Leukemias are cancers of the blood and bone marrow. They start when blood cells begin to develop abnormally. There are several kinds of leukemia, including CLL, which tends to affect older, more mature lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of blood cell.

Pneumonia is not cancer and does not directly affect the blood or bone marrow. It is a lung infection with a wide variety of causes, including:

In general, around 2% of people develop lung cancer alongside CLL, and it is unclear how many of those cases are due to the CLL.

People who have CLL and lung cancer at the same time are far more likely to die from lung cancer than CLL.

CLL is blood cancer, so it does not directly affect the lungs. Still, lung symptoms may be linked to a complication of CLL, and the specific symptoms depend on the complication.

Some symptoms of pneumonia are also common in people with lung cancer. For instance, the following are symptoms of pneumonia:

  • a heavy or recurrent cough, which may produce greenish, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • chest pain
  • a fever
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • chest pain that gets worse during deep breathing or coughing
  • a loss of appetite
  • low energy and fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting, especially in small children
  • confusion, especially in older people

The American Cancer Society lists the following common lung cancer symptoms:

  • a cough that does not go away
  • chest pain
  • coughing up blood
  • hoarseness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • feeling tired or weak
  • wheezing

Research indicates that lung complications are common in people with CLL. One example of this type of complication, other than pneumonia, is called “pulmonary infiltrates.” It involves a substance that is heavier than air, such as pus, blood, or protein, lingering within the lungs.

Addressing lung symptoms related to CLL may involve treating CLL as well as the lung complication itself.

There is currently no cure for CLL. A 2021 review outlines some approaches that can help manage the disease.

Many people with CLL benefit from targeted therapy. Targeted agents are drugs that kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.

In addition, doctors may use several medications to treat a single case of pneumonia, including:

  • antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics and antivirals
  • corticosteroids
  • statins

Some other treatments for CLL might include monoclonal antibodies, such as bendamustine (Treanda) and rituximab (Truxima), as well as chemotherapy.

In the rare event that CLL may be associated with lung cancer, the approach to treatment largely depends on the cancer’s stage. When lung cancer is in an early stage, doctors often recommend surgery to remove tumors. In the later stages, doctors may also recommend chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The selection of other forms of treatment, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy, depends less on the cancer’s stage.

CLL and its treatments can cause a range of symptoms, many of which do not affect the lungs.

Symptoms of CLL include:

  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • a fever
  • chills
  • weight loss
  • pain or a sensation of fullness in the stomach
  • night sweats
  • swollen lymph nodes

Anyone experiencing symptoms of CLL should contact a healthcare professional.

CLL is a type of blood cancer. It can increase the risk of several lung problems, including pneumonia.

Lung-related complications of CLL require additional treatment, beyond treatment for the cancer.