Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Treatment

cll
Blood smear showing a
marked lymphocytosis
characteristic of CLL

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a slow-growing form of leukemia that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Accounting for roughly one-third of all leukemias, approximately 15,000 new cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year.1 Overall, chronic lymphocytic leukemia mainly affects older adults, with the average age of diagnosis being 72 years old.1

There are two specific kinds of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The first, in which people can live an average of 15 years or longer after diagnosis, grows very slowly and may not require immediate treatment. The second is a more serious form in that it grows faster, with an average survival rate of approximately eight years. Special types of tests are usually given to determine whether or not the chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells contain proteins called ZAP-70 or CD38. If low levels of these two proteins are found, it usually means patients have a better overall prognosis.

Treatment options for chronic lymphocytic leukemia may include one or more of the following:

Chemotherapy
Two or more agents – typically a purine analog combined with an alkylating agent – are standard chemotherapy regimens for this form of leukemia.
Monoclonal Antibodies
These types of therapies are specially designed drugs that target and bind to specific proteins that are found on the surface of cancer cells in order to kill and destroy them. Arzerra, Campath and Rituxan are three different monoclonal antibodies that may be given to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Arzerra and Rituxan bind to the CD20 antigen on the surface of cancer cells, while Campath binds to CD52.
Radiation Therapy
External radiation is usually reserved as part of the treatment used in a stem cell transplant in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It also can be used to help alleviate pain if the cancer has spread to solid organs causing discomfort.
Bone Marrow or Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant
High doses of chemotherapy or radiation are given to destroy bone marrow cells (where white blood cells develop) and then are replaced with healthy stem cells previously removed from the bone marrow or blood of the patient or a donor. Research has yet to determine how effective this type of treatment is for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

References

  1. American Cancer Society, Leukemia – Chronic Lymphocytic (CLL) Detailed Guide, Accessed on August 2, 2010.

 

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