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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Claims Jill Clayburgh


Jill Clayburgh, the multi-award nominated and Academy Award winning actress who graced the Broadway stage, movie screens, and television, died November 5, 2010, at age 66 after a 21-year-long battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Clayburgh leaves behind her playwright husband of 31 years, David Rabe, as well as her daughter Lily Rabe and a son Michael.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is 1 of 4 types of leukemia

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an estimated 100,760 people in the United States are living with or are in remission from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). With the passing of Clayburgh, that number has been reduced by one.

The Society notes that many people who have CLL can have a good quality of life for many years if they adhere to medical treatment. The choice of treatment varies, depending on how fast the disease grows and the patient’s symptoms. For slow-growing disease with no symptoms, patients typically “watch and wait,” undergoing frequent monitoring of the disease without any active treatment.

If the leukemia begins to progress and/or the patient experiences symptoms (tiring easily, shortness of breath, frequent infections, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes or spleen), chemotherapy and/or monoclonal antibody therapies are usually started.

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Chemotherapy drugs kill or damage leukemia cells, and are associated with a variety of bothersome side effects, including nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, hair loss, and fatigue. Monoclonal antibody therapies are proteins that attach to the leukemia cells and cause them to die. This therapy also has side effects.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia develops when there is a mutation to the DNA of a lymphocyte cell. In 95 percent of patients, the change occurs in a B lymphocyte. The remaining 5 percent of patients have mutations of two other types of lymphocytes: T cells or natural killer cells. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that are critical for a healthy immune system.

Over time, the mutated cells multiple and take the place of normal lymphocytes in the lymph nodes and bone marrow. As the number of CLL cells in the bone marrow increase and crowd out normal blood-forming cells, the CLL cells cannot fight infections like healthy lymphocytes do.

CLL is more common in people who are age 60 years and older, with the number of people with the disease starting to increase after age 50. Only a small number of people are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in their 30s and 40s. Ms. Clayburgh had developed the disease while she was in her 40s.

Jill Clayburgh performed in a variety of venues while battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia, including Running with Scissors, Fools Rush In, Whispers in the Dark, Going All the Way, Naked in New York, and her latest and last movie, Love and Other Drugs.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society