Treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Last medical review:

If you are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. The main goal when treating CLL is to control the disease while you maintain a good quality of life.

CLL often grows slowly, and many people live a long time with the disease. Research tells us that treating CLL before there are certain signs of disease progression doesn't help people live longer. Because of this and because treatments can cause side effects, many people who are diagnosed with CLL start with active surveillance.

During active surveillance, your healthcare team uses tests and exams to check if CLL is progressing or your condition is getting worse, suggesting it's time to start active treatment. Your healthcare team also helps and encourages you to take steps to stay healthy.

Active treatment for CLL usually starts with targeted therapy or chemoimmunotherapy. Your healthcare team will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is based on:

  • molecular characteristics of the CLL cells
  • your overall health (if chemoimmunotherapy is being considered as a treatment)
  • your age
  • factors important to you

A stem cell transplant can sometimes be used. You may be offered treatment such as CAR T-cell therapy and bispecific T-cell engagers (BiTEs), which are being studied in the treatment of CLL in clinical trials.

CLL is very similar to a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). They are often considered different versions of the same disease, and SLL is treated the same way as CLL.

Active surveillance for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Active surveillance may be offered for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The healthcare team watches the cancer closely to see if it is growing before offering other treatments.

Starting active treatment

Active treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which is usually targeted therapy or chemoimmunotherapy, starts when CLL shows signs of progression (getting worse).

First-line therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

First-line therapies used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are targeted therapy and chemoimmunotherapy.

What does response to treatment mean?

Monitoring response to treatment helps your healthcare team understand how treatment is working. Tests are done to determine if the cancer is in remission or is relapsed or refractory.

Treatments for relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Treatments for relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) include targeted therapy, chemoimmunotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Targeted therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules on cancer cells. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is usually treated with targeted therapy.

Chemoimmunotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Chemoimmunotherapy combines chemotherapy and targeted therapy drugs. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is sometimes treated with chemoimmunotherapy.

Stem cell transplant for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

A stem cell transplant replaces stem cells. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is sometimes treated with a stem cell transplant.

Follow-up after treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Follow-up is an important part of care for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). It involves regular tests and visits with the healthcare team.

Hairy cell leukemia

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is an uncommon type of lymphocytic leukemia and is usually slow growing. HCL can be treated with active observation, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

1-888-939-3333 | | © 2024 Canadian Cancer Society