Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a blood and bone marrow disease that usually gets worse slowly. CLL is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults. Normally, the body makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood cells over time. A blood stem cell may become a myeloid stem cell or a lymphoid stem cell. In CLL, too many blood stem cells become abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) and do not become healthy white blood cells. The abnormal lymphocytes also may be called leukemia cells. The lymphocytes are not able to fight infection very well. As the number of lymphocytes increases in the blood and bone marrow (soft, spongy center of bone), there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. This may cause infection, anemia and easy bleeding.

Treatment options for CLL include watchful waiting, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapies, stem cell transplantation, radiation therapy and surgery. Many first-line treatments are currently available for CLL. The choice of treatment will depend on the stage of the disease and whether the patient has symptoms, age, overall health and the benefits versus side effects of treatment. Immunotherapy drugs for CLL first became available in 2007 with a monoclonal antibody that targets an antigen (protein) known as CD52, which is a common antigen found on B and T-cells (cells in the body’s immune system). Several additional monoclonal antibodies that target CD20 have since been approved for CLL.

Many treatments are currently being tested in clinical trials for people with both newly diagnosed and relapsed/refractory CLL. The combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy (chemoimmunotherapy) is being explored as induction therapy in patients with newly diagnosed CLL. Researchers are also investigating ways to improve stem cell transplantation in patients with CLL. Genetically engineered immune cells, or T-cells, designed to recognize and kill CLL cells are another area of research for treating CLL.

Today’s scientific research is continuously evolving, and treatment options may change as new treatments are discovered and current treatments are improved. Clinical trials are testing new options, and one may be right for you. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for clinical trials before deciding on any treatment options. Clinical trials may give you access to some of the most leading-edge therapies available.


FDA-Approved Immunotherapies for CLL
As of 10/26/2016
alemtuzumab (Campath)
obinutuzumab (Gazyva)
ofatumumab (Arzerra)
rituximab (Rituxan)

Additional Resources


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