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Monoclonal antibodies are man-made versions of immune system proteins (antibodies) that are designed to attach to a certain place on the surface of cancer cells. They can help kill the cancer cells or signal them to die.

These drugs can be given alone or along with chemotherapy to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). They all are given as injections, either under the skin or into a vein (IV). Common side effects include fever and chills that occur while the drugs are being given into a vein. Less often, a more serious reaction, like low blood pressure, may occur while the drug is being given.

Another side effect is a problem with infections. Some of these drugs can cause old hepatitis infections to become active again. That is why your doctor will check your blood for signs of an old hepatitis infection before treatment with some of these drugs. For one monoclonal antibody drug, the risk of certain serious infections with is so high that patients need to take antibiotics and antiviral medicines while on it.

Each drug can cause different side effects, so ask your doctor what you can expect.

More information can be found in the section “Monoclonal antibodies for chronic lymphocytic leukemia” in our detailed guide Leukemia - Chronic Lymphocytic.

Last Medical Review: 01/30/2015
Last Revised: 02/23/2016