Leukemia--Chronic Lymphocytic

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Treating Leukemia - Chronic Lymphocytic (CLL) TOPICS

Targeted therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Researchers have begun to develop newer drugs that specifically target the changes inside cells that cause them to become cancerous. Unlike standard chemotherapy drugs, which work by attacking rapidly growing cells in general (including cancer cells), these drugs attack one or more specific targets on cancer cells.

Ibrutinib (Imbruvica™) is a targeted drug that was recently approved to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in patients who have already received at least one other treatment for their disease. It blocks the activity of a protein called a kinase that tells the leukemia cells to divide and helps them survive. In studies, it helped patients with CLL that is hard to treat, such as cases with chromosome 17 deletions and cases that have grown back after other treatments.

This drug is taken in pill form. Side effects tend to be mild but can include diarrhea, nausea, constipation, fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling of the feet and hands, body aches, and rash. Low blood counts, including low red blood cell counts (anemia), low levels of certain white blood cells (neutropenia), and platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), are also common side effects. Some patients treated with this drug get infections which can be serious. Other side effects can also be seen, so ask your doctor what you can expect.

For more information about targeted therapy, see our document Targeted Therapy.

Last Medical Review: 07/31/2013
Last Revised: 04/18/2014